Charles Stewart reminds us that mail-in may disenfranchise more than it adds in turnout

In this COVID crisis, I support mail-in voting for all. However, for years whave been warning of the downsides of absentee voting: It usually decreases turnout, it as a frequent path for insider and political operative fraud, and it disenfranchises. A new paper by MIT Professor Charles Stewart documents that disenfranchisement in the 2016 Presidential Election: Reconsidering Lost Votes by Mail <read>

Conceptually, the paper highlights how differing mail-ballot legal regimes produce lost mail votes in different ways, and at different rates, on account of differing laws, regulations, and practices…That estimate works out to approximately 1.4 million votes in 2016—4.0% of mail ballots cast and 1.0% of all ballots. These estimates are relevant in light of efforts to expand mail balloting in the 2020 presidential election. States that will see the greatest growth in mail ballots tended to have higher lost vote rates than those with vote-by-mail systems. This implies that a doubling or tripling of the number of mail ballots in 2020 will result in a disproportionate growth in the number of lost votes due to mail ballots.

Disenfranchisement varies by State, based on many factors that include laws and practices.

The calculation of lost votes in mail elections focuses on summing up six quantities:

1. Requests for mail ballots that are not received by the election authorities.

2. Absentee ballot requests that are unfulfilled by election authorities.

3. Absentee ballots transmitted by election authorities that are not received by the voter.

4. Absentee ballots returned by the voter but not received by the election authorities.

5. Returned absentee ballots that are rejected by election authorities.

6. Tabulated mail ballots that fail to record the choice(s) made by the voter, i.e., residual votes.

Connecticut is on track to increase its mail-in balloting by 10x to 15x by November. That means 10x – 15x the number of voters disenfranchised by mail-in voting.

Once again, in this crisis in my opinion, it is worth the loss in votes to do mail-in voting. Yet as always, we caution voters and the General Assembly to look at all the facts in choosing what do to going forward.



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