New data shows folly of Trump’s crusade against early voting
States achieved divergent results, but shared some key elements in common. Facilitating early or mail-in voting has not led to voter fraud, nor does it appear to benefit Republicans or Democrats. In Kentucky, Republicans retained five of the state’s six congressional districts and one Senate seat. Both Vermont and Nevada have seen split-ticket voters decide races statewide, by a gaping margin in Vermont and a narrow one in Nevada.
This reflects a broad lesson for other states that might consider expanding voter access or encouraging pre-Election Day voting: while voting methods have become deeply biased by party, expanding access to early and postal voting does not seem to benefit one party over the other. Republicans are doing themselves no favors when they follow in Trump’s footsteps and vilify early voting: it’s more incumbent on their voters to vote in a single day.
But there’s little evidence that expanding voter access tilts the election toward the Democrats either.
“We’ve shown he’s bipartisan,” Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a Republican, said of his state’s new early voting window. “Both parties are comfortable using it.”
Vermont, a strongly Democratic state at the federal level which, still occasionally, vote for Republicans locally, set turnout records for the modern era in November after permanently switching to universal mail-in ballots. But Nevada, which adopted automatic voter registration and also mailed ballots to all voters in 2022 after a pandemic trial in 2020, saw only a slight increase in ballots despite races hotly contested statewide.
In Kentucky, a rare red state that expanded access to early voting, most voters still voted on Election Day and voter turnout in November’s midterm elections was lower than in 2018, although a lack of competitive racing may have contributed to this.
Many states have expanded short-notice mail and early voting options in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They faced a swift backlash from Trump, who falsely claimed that mail-in ballots were linked to widespread voter fraud. His rhetoric helped spark an unprecedented partisan divide between voting methods, with Democratic voters becoming far more likely to use mail and early voting options while Republican voters primarily voted on Election Day.
This divide has fueled other election-related conspiracy theories due to the order in which votes were counted in key states such as Pennsylvania.
A handful of Republican-controlled states responded in 2021 by rolling back pandemic-era electoral reforms or further restricting access to alternative voting methods. GOP-controlled Texas enacted legislation banning nighttime and drive-in voting options that had been used in populous Harris County, a Democratic stronghold.
But elsewhere, the successful use of mail and early voting during the pandemic has provided a model for expanding access to voting. In Vermont, a law to send every active registered voter a ballot passed with bipartisan support in 2021 and was signed by Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican.
Scott, a moderate, easily won re-election in November with more than 70% of the vote, while Democrats won other races statewide in Vermont. The state also saw its highest turnout on record for a non-presidential election, with 57% of adults voting – which Under Secretary of State Chris Winters attributed in part to the ease of voting by mail. .
“There were a number of Republicans who were concerned about the security aspect of voting by mail and potential voter fraud who came forward afterwards and said, ‘You know what, this has helped a lot of people. to show up who normally wouldn’t vote,'” Winters said.
In Nevada, the Democratic-led legislature moved to make universal mail-in voting permanent in 2021 after it was used during the pandemic. The expansion came as part of a litany of electoral reforms. Nevada voters previously enacted automatic voter registration for people obtaining or updating their driver’s license via a 2018 referendum, and they backed a referendum in November to use ranked voting in future elections. although it will have to be re-enacted in 2024 to come into effect.
The number of registered voters has exploded over the past two years, likely in part due to the ease of registration. But despite these growing numbers and the fact that every registered voter in Nevada received a ballot before the November election, the total number of ballots cast in Nevada for this election was only slightly up from 2018. The share of registered voters who voted was actually lower.
Participation is not just about passing laws. Sondra Cosgrove, a Nevada suffrage advocate and professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada, expressed concern that the state had not allocated enough resources to voter education. A tiny but not insignificant share of mail-in ballots were discarded, she said, because voters made mistakes and failed to correct them.
For the state primary earlier in the year, about 4,000 mail-in ballots were not counted for this reason.
Statistics are not yet available for the general elections. But both parties targeted their voters whose ballots needed to be hardened after Election Day as key races remained close — a less-than-ideal result, Cosgrove noted, saying curing the ballots won’t should not be a “partisan exercise”.
Nevada has seen some polarization by vote type. Democrats were more likely to vote by mail while Republicans tended to vote on Election Day. But both parties still scored statewide victories. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the GOP gubernatorial candidate, narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, while the Democratic senator. Catherine Cortez Masto held in one of the tightest senatorial races in the country.
In Kentucky, lawmakers took a different path. The state’s GOP-led legislature reached an agreement with Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, to permanently establish three days of early voting. Previously, election day was the only day to vote for over a century.
During the pandemic, the state had expanded absentee voting for the 2020 primary and added several weeks of early voting for the general election, but the three-day period was less expensive, noted Adams, the secretary of state. And it still allowed voters to vote on days when early voting had been most popular.
In 2020, the state also lambasted the airwaves and covered billboards with ads encouraging early voting, a strategy to reduce Election Day crowds made possible by an influx of federal pandemic dollars. With those funds long gone and fewer worries about Covid-19, there was no similar surge in November.
Most Kentucky voters resumed voting on Election Day, and there was no significant polarization by method of voting, with Republicans and Democrats widely using the early voting window at similar rates.
Adams speculated that the use of early voting could slowly increase in future election cycles as voters get used to it.
“I think the biggest turnout factor is voter motivation,” he said. “It’s peripheral to what the election rules are.”