Elections since the COVID-19 lockdown set the scene for long (and dangerous) lines, confused shifts to vote by mail (VBM), and partisan conflict. VBM may be the best route to safe, universal voting, but logistics, money, and politics set high hurdles.
Consider VBM requirements for printing special envelopes, to-be-defined instructions, and district-specific ballots. Bear in mind the need to educate voters about options, deadlines, and VBM security.
Governments will have to pay to print and mail ballots and to cover the salaries of employees who will prepare, manage, and then count the ballots. (Note that changes to in-person voting may mitigate some of these costs.)
Even though there might be no partisan advantage to VBM, there are ugly partisan debates about how — and whether — to allow VBM. Local decisions about the VBM process have huge consequences: When a judge in Wisconsin ordered the inclusion of ballots postmarked on election day, 79,000 more votes came into play. Meanwhile, Conservatives are fighting viciously to block VBM; simultaneously, they are spending millions to mail out pre-stamped VBM applications.
Currently, only 10.5% of the electorate is registered as a “permanent absentee voter.” Of those VBMers, 53% are European/White, but only 3% are African American. Participation by age group goes up steadily, with 18-24 year olds at 9% and 65+ year olds at 30%.
Clearly, VBM has room — and a mandate — to grow.
Activist organizations have their work cut out for them. They must keep apace with the competition, keep abreast of VBM regulations, and keep up to date with VBM datasets. While polling and analytics may be useful, there is no historical precedent for the next five months.
Sources: Campaigns and Elections and NPR