Americans like voting by mail and voting early. That’s unlikely to change
Happy New Year!
It’s 2024, and you know what that means: another presidential election year is upon us. Already, you say? It feels like we just went through one. Perhaps that’s because roughly a third of Americans, against all evidence, still don’t believe the results of that election. And because the former president is still telling them not to believe the results. In many ways, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of that unsuccessful conspiracy.
More recently, the Maine Secretary of State removed Donald Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot. It was the second state to do so, following a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that had the same effect. Both decisions were based on a rarely used constitutional ban against those who “engaged in insurrection.” For now, Trump is back on the Colorado ballot while state Republicans appeal the ban to the US Supreme Court.
Will the Supreme Court step in? All sides hope so. After all, two other states—California and Michigan—have rejected the 14th Amendment argument that Maine and Colorado accepted. Whatever the outcome, it promises to have a major impact on how 2024 shakes out. In today’s Topline, we take a closer look at an issue with fewer headlines that will play a critical role in the election as well. —Melissa Amour, Managing Editor
How Will We Vote in 2024?
Barring a Supreme Court ruling against Donald Trump’s candidacy or possibly a criminal conviction, the 2024 presidential election is increasingly looking like a rematch between the two 2020 candidates—with a few new faces thrown in for good measure. So the burning question on our minds isn’t ‘who will we vote for?’ but ‘how?’
You’ll recall that the 2020 election was far from normal. With it coming smack dab in the middle of a pandemic, states took emergency measures to ensure that citizens could vote safely. In some states, for the first time ever, voters could participate via mail, with no excuse required, or vote early, rather than crowd the polls on Election Day.
Although convenient, these changes came with a cost—a steep one. Donald Trump used the voting accommodations as a pretext to inject doubt into the election process itself, thereby undermining Americans’ faith in the election’s outcome. We all know what happened soon after. In spite of this, data released by the US Election Assistance Commission reveals that voting by mail is broadly popular with Americans, and it is expected to remain so in 2024, even without a pandemic.
What You Should Know
States have responded to public demand. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states and D.C. allow registered voters to vote by mail with no excuse needed, and eight states conduct elections entirely by mail, meaning voters are automatically sent a ballot without having to request one. Other states have taken steps to keep their pandemic-era measures in place permanently.
“I wish we could say we’re the first. We’re not, because of all kinds of reasons. But today we’re going to right the wrong of the past and say it’s finally time that people can vote by mail. We saw it work during the pandemic. We can do this.” —New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
States like Connecticut and Kentucky worked in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that early voting, which Kentucky introduced during the pandemic, became permanent.
“I wanted to make the point that this is something that the founding fathers came up with. This isn’t some radical idea that’s brand new and untested.” —Kentucky’s Republican Secretary of State, Michael Adams, who reminded voters that the state had four-day voting periods in the 1700s and early 1800s
Indeed, many states in the western part of the country were voting by mail long before anyone had heard of COVID-19. No-excuse absentee voting began in Washington state in 1974, and over the decades since, others have followed.
“In my state, I’ll bet 90 percent of us vote by mail. It works very, very well, and it’s a very Republican state.” —Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah
To sum up, Americans like voting options that provide greater convenience and flexibility, there are historical precedents for these reforms, and they increase participation in the democratic process. What’s not to love? Ask Republicans in New York, North Carolina, Virginia, and elsewhere who are trying to roll back vote-by-mail and early voting measures in their states.
How We Got Here
Before 2020, Republicans by and large embraced voting by mail, and Republican voters in the South are historically more likely to vote by mail than Democrats are. But the 2020 election changed Republican perceptions of the practice.
“RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!” —Donald Trump on Twitter, June 22, 2020
Trump began planting seeds of doubt about voting by mail early on. As we wrote in The Topline in August 2020:
Despite voting by absentee ballot himself, President Trump has long made his unfounded suspicions about vote-by-mail clear. But today he went a step further, publicly confirming what observers already presumed—he opposes a boost in funding for the U.S. Postal Service as part of the Democrats’ proposed coronavirus relief package because he wants to make it harder for states to expand mail-in voting.
His claims, rebuffed by the FBI and other Republicans at the time, had a major effect on how Americans voted in 2020 along partisan lines.
Due to the massive expansion of mail voting, a staggering number of Americans cast their ballots before Election Day. And due to then-President Donald Trump’s false claims that mail voting would lead to election fraud, a huge partisan gap emerged between ballots cast by mail and ballots cast on Election Day. —FiveThirtyEight
These claims set the stage for Trump’s attempts to undermine faith in the election after Joe Biden was declared the winner. Trump’s Attorney General, Bill Barr, who initially seconded Trump’s concerns about voting by mail, later disputed his allegations.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” —Former Attorney General Bill Barr, December 1, 2020
What People Are Saying
Americans like voting by mail and voting early. Though we aren’t likely to see as many ballots cast that way in 2024 as we did during the pandemic’s first year, they will almost assuredly exceed pre-pandemic levels. Some Republicans get it.
“To win close elections, we need to close the gap on pre-Election Day voting.” —Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel
“Go to BankYourVote.com. Commit to sign up and commit to voting early… We must defeat the far left at their own game.”
But by November, he returned to his old message.
“Mail-in ballots are a disaster.” —Donald Trump at Republican Party of Florida’s Freedom Summit
How will the Republican rank-and-file ultimately respond? That remains to be seen. A spokesperson for the Florida Democratic Party says it best:
“Nationally, Trump’s Republican Party worked overtime in 2020 to spread misinformation and demonize the United States Postal Service, one of the most trusted public entities in the country. Now, the…GOP is attempting to reverse Trump’s lies and rebuild trust their party leader broke. For the sake of democracy and trust in our institutions, we wish them luck.” —Florida Phoenix
- Landscape shifts on voting methods, as state backs off its financial support during pandemic —MassLive
- In face of threats, election workers vow: ‘You are not disrupting the democratic process’ —Michigan Advance
- American democracy has overcome big stress tests since the 2020 election. More challenges are ahead —Associated Press
“Already the majority of states have suckered their citizens into making direct democracy harder. ONLY Boulder has made it easier, with the country’s only online petitioning for direct democracy: petitions.bouldercolorado.gov.
The only country with extensive “mob rule” in the world is Switzerland, where petitions can be left unattended in offices and stores, making it so easy to get on the ballot that the Swiss vote FOUR times a year, including on NATIONAL initiatives. And Switzerland is one of the most successful countries in the world by any measure.
Voters may not have as much information as politicians, but they are far more honest and we have every incentive to fix our mistakes, while politicians have incentive to cover up the mistakes, for their image, careers and donors. We need both representative and direct democracy to check and balance each other, as has worked successfully in Switzerland for centuries.”— Evan R., Colorado
The views expressed in “What’s Your Take?” are submitted by readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff or the Renew Democracy Initiative.
- The threats just keep on coming: Special counsel says Trump immunity claim threatens democracy —POLITICO
- Growing sour: Americans frustrated with primary election process and major political parties, an AP-NORC poll says —Associated Press
- Responding in kind: 6 states are rethinking how they run their primaries in 2024 —NBC News
- Food for thought: American democracy is cracking. These ideas could help repair it —The Washington Post
- Give this a listen: 2024 elections around the world: Democracy on the line —Reuters
- China: Xi vows ‘reunification’ with Taiwan in year-end address —The Hill
- Congo: Democratic Republic of Congo President Tshisekedi re-elected after contested poll —CNN
- North Korea: Kim says armed conflict becoming reality because of US —Reuters
- Serbia: Thousands protest in Serbia alleging election fraud by governing party —Al Jazeera
- Ukraine: Russia Hammers Kyiv With Missiles in Large-Scale Attack —The New York Times
Hey Topline readers, you remember the drill. We want to hear your reactions to today’s stories. We’ll include some of your replies in this space in our next issue of The Topline. Click here to share your take, and don’t forget to include your name and state. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!