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Absentee Voting

November 1, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Tomy Granzier-Nakajima

Executive Summary 

Some states, including Missouri, require voters to provide a valid excuse in order to receive an absentee ballot in the mail as an alternative to in-person voting. Other states allow voters to request a ballot without any excuse, or automatically mail all voters a ballot. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states expanded the availability of absentee voting for the 2020 primary and presidential elections. As a result, the use of mail-in ballots nearly doubled with respect to previous election years. Studies have shown that allowing all registered voters to request a mail-in ballot without any excuse requirement can result in a moderate increase in voter turnout. There have been no indications that mail-in ballots are associated with large increases in the share of votes obtained by one party or with increases in voter fraud. 

Highlights 

  • Thirty-four states in the US offer absentee voting with no excuse requirement or automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters.
  • No-excuse absentee voting is estimated to increase voter turnout by about 2%; universal mail-in voting is estimated to increase voter turnout from 2% - 8%.
  • Moderate to no partisan effect on voter turnout or share of votes is observed as a result of implementing no-excuse absentee voting or universal mail-in voting.
  • No widespread increase in voter fraud has been observed with mail-in ballots.

Limitations 

  • There is a limited amount of research on the effects of absentee voting on voter habits.
  • Universal mail-in voting has been estimated to increase voter turnout, but further research may be needed to better understand the factors that may account for this increase.
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