Research ArticleSOCIAL SCIENCES

The participatory and partisan impacts of mandatory vote-by-mail

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Science Advances  26 Aug 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 35, eabc7685
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc7685

Abstract

Recently, mandatory vote-by-mail has received a great deal of attention as a means of administering elections in the United States. However, policy-makers disagree on the merits of this approach. Many of these debates hinge on whether mandatory vote-by-mail advantages one political party over the other. Using a unique pairing of historical county-level data that covers the past three decades and more than 40 million voting records from the two states that have conducted a staggered rollout of mandatory vote-by-mail (Washington and Utah), we use several methods for causal inference to show that mandatory vote-by-mail slightly increases voter turnout but has no effect on election outcomes at various levels of government. Our results find meaning given contemporary debates about the merits of mandatory vote-by-mail. Mandatory vote-by-mail ensures that citizens are given a safe means of casting their ballot while simultaneously not advantaging one political party over the other.

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