When America began to close this spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it had already turned the high-stakes race of 2020 into an uncertain high-wire balancing act.
Election officials across the country, many of whom were already underfunded and under-resourced, began to struggle to find places where they could safely offer personal voting, and poll workers who tended to distort more the adults began to drop out. The disastrous primary elections in Wisconsin and Georgia gave alarming signals that America was heading for chaotic general elections.
Against this background of chaos, countries where few people usually vote by mail were suddenly forced to expand and hold elections in which most people were expected to vote in this way, hoping to avoid long queues and human contact among the pandemic. As the year progressed, a sharp guerrilla division emerged. Donald Trump opposed the postal vote, while Democrats aggressively encouraged supporters to do so.
It was a risk for the Democrats. In many states, mail voting has not been used before – including key battlefields in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. For voters accustomed to voting in person, postal voting offers a new set of rules and procedures to follow, and the voter can reject his or her ballot for even a small mistake.
While Democrats fought an aggressive legal battle to loosen restrictions on postal voting, many Republican officials refused to do so. Congress has allocated some of the expected $ 4 billion needed to hold elections with significantly increased mail voting. Despite serious mail delays this summer, Republican authorities in Texas and Ohio have limited voters’ ability to return their ballots in person. Texas Republicans fought to block people from being able to register to vote online and tried to reject 127,000 ballots cast. Republicans in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina have strongly opposed efforts to give voters more time to return their ballots and have officials count them. In Alabama, the top civil servant in the election successfully went all the way to the US Supreme Court to block counties from offering unrestricted voting. In Oklahoma, after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a law requiring voters to notarize their ballots, Republicans rushed to reinstate the revised version of the measure.
Now, almost a month after the election, the risk seems to have paid off for Democrats. The nightmare scenarios largely did not happen – there was no widespread mail delay that would have disenfranchised millions of Americans, as many feared this summer. Instead, states with little experience in postal voting were able to combine with more experienced countries in holding successful elections. More than 100 million people voted early, in person or by mail – a record number.
“At this point, I am convinced that the democratic strategy and the democratic advantage of postal voting were extremely important and critical to Biden’s victory,” said Tom Bonnie, CEO of TargetSmart, a democratic data firm that tracks voter data. . “There is absolutely no way we can achieve these record levels of turnout at the national level without this mass acceptance of postal voting.”
“We made our ass”: more Democrats voted by mail
The guerrilla battles over the vote in recent years have been shaped by the belief that, in general, more people are voting in favor of Democrats. But research earlier this year showed that postal voting is generally not good for one political party over another. As Trump continued to attack mail voting throughout the year, some Republicans worried he was sabotaging his own constituents by dissuading them from a voting method that could be more convenient and easier than voting at the polls.
Although the move to postal voting alone cannot explain the election results, Democrats actually did well in places where many people chose to vote by mail, according to data collected by the Guardian and ProPublica. Counties where people voted by high-priced mail are more likely to swing at Democrats than they were four years ago.
As for the harsh votes, many of them come from large suburban counties, which have risen sharply against the Democrats compared to 2016.
Some of the counties that had high rates of return of ballots were those that Trump had in 2016 and 2020, but where Biden managed to reduce his margins. For example, in Pike County, northeastern Pennsylvania, voters returned at least 93 percent of the ballots they requested. Trump moved the county in 2016 by about 26 percentage points. In 2020, Trump led the county by just 19 points.
Jay Tucker, chairman of the Pike County Democratic Committee, said “there is no doubt” that the postal vote has helped improve Democrats’ performance this year. He said he and other organizers were able to keep a close eye on who asked for a vote and regularly tracked those who did not return the ballot.
“We made an ass for that,” Tucker said. “One of the biggest mistakes Trump made in this election was not supporting mail voting. Because I think a lot more people came out. “
In Michigan, one of the strongest Democrats was Kent County, home of the Grand Rapids. Trump won the county by four points in 2016, but Biden outscored him by six points this year. Eighty percent of people who asked for ballots were returned by mail, something that helped Democrats do well there, said Gary Stark, chairman of the county Democratic Party.
“I think absentee voting was a factor in greater voter turnout. I think a number of new voters have used absentee ballots or mail ballots this time. There is no way to prove this, but that would be my guess, “he said.
“Do not trust the mailbox”: different views of the newsletters for mailing
America reported the highest turnout in the presidential election since the early 20th century. Nearly 160 million people – about 67% of those eligible – voted this year. And Michael MacDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who closely monitors turnout, said there were signs that extended mail voting contributed more to higher turnout than those who did not, although he warned that it is still analyzing voter data.
But repeated Republican attacks on the process seem to have shaken the faith of some voters in the process.
Deadlines for returning absent ballots were reversed as lawsuits made their way through the courts. There have been hundreds of election-related lawsuits this year in state and federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to lift mail voting restrictions on a handful of those who have reached it. He dropped a federal lawsuit to make the U.S. Postal Service transparent and make detailed commitments on how to ensure timely delivery of ballots.
“My mother was like, no, don’t send anything in the mail. Don’t trust the mailbox. Get him in and let him go, ”said Sonny King, who requested the ballot to be mailed and returned it in person to a satellite voting site in Philadelphia days before the election.
“I listened a lot about all the mail problems, the breaches and all that, so I felt like it was a safer route,” said Brittany Davis, who voted in person on election day in Philadelphia.
“You just hear so much in the news, in the media, that I don’t know how true and how not, just [about] newsletters are confused, people don’t do it the right way. So I just know if I was able to come in, even if I had to wait, just to make sure my vote was 100%, I would have done it, “said Shofolahan Da-silva, who also voted in person in Philadelphia.
There is also the fact that some communities have had a harder time voting by mail. As the election approached, black voters in North Carolina had predominantly cast their ballots for potential rejection.
Indians also face serious obstacles to voting by mail – postal services when booking can be unreliable and the nearest post office can be hours away.
Habit-building: there may be extended access here to stay
The success of the postal vote this year could mean more people will vote by mail in the future, Bonnier said. This could mean more electoral infrastructure that supports the sending and counting of these ballots, a process that has sparked some of the biggest legal battles in the election.
“Historically, usually when people vote in the mail once, they do it again. It forms habits, “he said. “What we will see in terms of the trend line is that these elections represent a huge leap in interest in postal voting and some of them will give way, but we will find ourselves at a time when many more people in this country will vote by mail in future elections than before 2020. “
In Georgia, for example, people who voted by mail in the 2018 midterm elections are much more likely to vote by mail again in 2020, according to a Guardian analysis of data from Georgia’s secretary of state. Of those who voted in both elections, about 78% of people who voted by mail in 2018 did so again in 2020. Only 34% of those who voted in person in 2018 voted by mail in 2020.
Still, if the states continue to perceive the dramatic expansion of postal voting after record turnout. Republicans in Georgia, as well as Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina senator, have already proposed a revision of the postal voting rules. Such an approach would fit into a well-documented republican strategy that seeks to make voting more difficult in order to retain party power.
“I think we could go back. It would be difficult to justify this, given how high the turnout was and the goal should be greater participation, “Bonier said. “But given the polarization we have seen specifically on this issue of postal voting, it is unreasonable to assume that there will be at least some effort to limit postal voting in future elections.”