New study finds voting by mail doesn't actually help Democrats more than the GOP

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A new paper from the Public Policy Institute of California found that in some cases an increase in absentee voting can help Republicans more than Democrats.

A paper released on Tuesday provides evidence that a common Republican message popularized by Donald Trump — that voting by mail helps Democrats — may be wrong. The new research, from the Public Policy Institute of California, concludes instead that an increase in absentee voting may actually slightly favor Republicans.

According to the paper, mailing every registered voter a ballot "generally does increase turnout." But unlike Trump's assertion that a switch to all-mail elections would ensure that "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," the paper found an increase in absentee voting was negligible at best and in many instances had a "modest improvement for Republicans" on the ballot.

The paper comes as Republicans across the country seek to make it harder to vote by mail, a move they're making following Trump's insistence that making it easier to vote benefits Democrats.

Trump railed against states' decisions to increase access to absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, when voting in-person would be dangerous for those vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus.

And after he officially lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, Trump has since blamed his loss in part on fraud associated with those ballots — which has been proven again and again to be false.

"It's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace," Trump said of voting by mail in his Feb. 28 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "There should be a legitimate reason for someone to vote absentee, has to have a reason. We should eliminate the insanity of mass and very corrupt mail-in voting."

Even before the election, voting experts said the claims from Trump and other Republican lawmakers that absentee ballots would hurt the GOP's chances in the 2020 election were false.

It's a conclusion the new study backed up.

"It doesn't have much effect one way or the other," Eric McGhee, one of the authors of the study, said of absentee voting in an interview with the American Independent Foundation. "And it certainly doesn't benefit Democrats."

Yet now, polling shows the GOP base believes the lies about fraud in the 2020 election. And Republican state lawmakers have introduced hundreds of bills across the country that seek to make it harder to vote — targeting voting by mail specifically.

Numerous bills Republicans have filed ban state election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters.

Other states, like Arizona and Florida, are seeking to kick voters off lists they had opted to be on that automatically sent them absentee ballots for an election.

Texas — which requires a reason to vote absentee — is looking to make it harder to vote by mail by forcing the disabled to submit written proof of their disability to qualify them for a ballot.

And Georgia passed a law that requires ID to vote by mail, something other GOP-controlled state legislatures are trying to implement as well.

Ultimately, McGhee concluded that while the restrictions on voting by mail may not change partisan outcomes, it could definitely decrease turnout.

"The biggest and most robust effect that we found was for mailing everyone a ballot," McGhee said. "So if you take that away, you would depress turnout."

And that's something at least one GOP state lawmaker admitted the party is trying to do by pushing for new voting laws.

"There's a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they're willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don't mind putting security measures in that won't let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn't be voting," Arizona GOP state Rep. John Kavanagh said in March.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.