Why has President Trump relentlessly attacked the opportunities of Americans to vote by mail? Putting aside his baseless claims about voter fraud, efforts to curtail registered
voters from casting a ballot prior to Election Day could, in fact, limit more knowledgeable voters from turning out to vote in November.
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic made it public health necessity, a growing number of
states had been expanding ways for registered voters to cast ballots prior to Election Day, either in person or by mail. Drawing on five Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) pre- and post-election national surveys, as well as an original survey of registered voters in Florida, Enrijeta Shino and I find in our new article, “Political Knowledge and Convenience Voting,” in Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, that more politically knowledgeable voters are significantly more likely to cast their ballots before Election Day.
Why might more knowledgeable voters be willing to cast their ballot early? Won’t they possibly miss the unearthing of a scandalous 11th hour event that could tip their decision to support a different party or candidate? We argue that such last-minute information—no matter how salacious—does not alter the electoral sensibilities of voters who have higher levels of political knowledge. We argue that prospective voters who have a command over basic facts about government institutions and political actors—what are known as “static-general” facts—are more willing to take advantage of “convenience” voting opportunities, casting their ballot days, or even weeks, prior to Election Day. In short, having a greater facility of the players and the “rules of the game” affects both when and how voters decide to vote, even after controlling for standard socio-economic, political, and campaign factors, as well as a respondent’s partisanship, ideology, and political engagement and awareness.
We find that those who possess less political knowledge, as well as Republicans, are much more likely to hold off to cast their ballot on Election Day. If voters with less political knowledge across the American states are less likely to vote early—particularly by mail—is it any wonder the President has made voting-by-mail Public Enemy #1?
I’ve published quite a bit on the topic, served as an expert witness in dozens of successful lawsuits, and know these files inside and out.
Here are the facts, using proper voter files (i.e., contemporaneous), comparing Jan-July 2016 registration numbers with Jan-July 2020 voter registration numbers, comparing apples to apples.
To look at new registrations (that is, how the parties and groups are doing on the ground), you cannot merely use the Florida Division of Elections summary files to figure this out, as I explained four years ago, here.
OK, here are the numbers. Comparable voter registration, as of July 1, 2020, was down by a total of 136,392 registrants. And Democrats and Republicans both account for 32.1% of new registrants over the first six months of the year.
New Registrations by Party, January-June, 2016 vs. January-June 2020
So, cut these numbers as you will, but by no means can it be said that Democrats are killing it out there. In fact, a total of 33 more Republicans registered to vote anew between January 1 and June 30 (and remained registered as of June 30) than newly registered Democrats.
COVID-19 is obviously the major reason why Democratic numbers are down, as nonpartisan groups who usually hit the ground are not as active, SOEs who usually are in the schools preregistering young voters had no classrooms to go to in April or May, etc. We’ve seen this pattern before, in 2011, after the Republican legislature passed HB 1355, which, among other things, cracked down on voter registration efforts by 3PVROs, as Michael Herron and I have written about before.
Perhaps Democrats and their allies will turn it around before the October registration date. Young voters who register immediately before an election in Florida are more likely to turn out in that proximate election, as Enrijeta Shino and I find, but their turnout levels aren’t sustained in subsequent elections, casting some doubt on the habitualization of voting.
But until we get some book closing numbers, the data are what they are. Republicans, as a proportion of new registrants in Florida, are doing better than they did four years ago over the first six months of the presidential election year.
Federal Judge Hinkle’s ruling is here.