Commentary

Could curtailing absentee voting crush conservatives in future elections?

March 14, 2021 11:00 am

A special election for an Iowa House seat representing Ankeny wraps up Tuesday. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Republicans seem on a mission to reverse the 2020 Election results.  One step for the GOP involves making it harder to vote in the future.  If these misguided initiatives succeed, then America will be a little less democratic, but will see a lot more Democrats win at the ballot box.

That’s because absentee voting has historically benefitted the Republican Party.

The story begins with a moment people once used to describe racism in America. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was all set to be the first African American governor of California since Reconstruction. Exit polls showed that Bradley would win. But it turned out that Attorney General George Deukmejian narrowly prevailed in that 1982 California contest.

That incident gave rise to “The Bradley Effect” and the mistaken belief that whites lie to pollsters, and vote against Black candidates.  Those polls would have been more accurate if they had included those elderly who cast absentee ballots, which skewed heavily Republican.

Writing in “American Politics Research,” Jeffrey A. Karp and Susan A. Banducci use data from the National Election Studies and make the following finding: “We see the Republican advantage in absentee voting as a result of self-selection rather than party mobilization.”

But 2020 was different, right?  Nope. Jesse Yoder and seven other fellow researchers from Stanford University’s Democracy & Polarization Lab find that in a Texas’ 14th District, Democrats were three times more likely to vote than Republicans, but the overall rate of turnout didn’t change much from prior elections. Absentee voting didn’t make voters out of non-voters.

Writing in “Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy,” Scot Schraufnagel, Michael J. Pomante II, and Quan Li report that the “cost of voting” during presidential cycles is the lowest where there is automatic voter registration processes and mail-in voting. There’s also a lot less fraud in states that make it easier to vote, and do not require excuses to vote absentee, as I found in my own research.  States that make it harder to vote have more fraud.

I’ve also found that voting absentee is supported by three-quarters of Republicans, as well as two-thirds of Democrats, according to a Reuters News poll. Attempts to squash that won’t sit well with voters. When Wisconsin Republicans tried to force residents to vote in person as the pandemic came to the U.S., angry voters defeated an incumbent Supreme Court justice who had been prominently endorsed by President Trump on multiple occasions. Voters were also upset with the hypocrisy that they had to vote in person, while courts chose to vote on cases remotely.

A number of conservatives also support absentee voting. The conservative R Street Institute provides data that shows absentee voting has been on the rise since 2008. The highest year for absentee voting, before 2020, was 2014, the year the GOP retook the Senate, kept the House, and won governor’s races.  R Street also shows evidence that absentee voting fits with conservative values, as the practice is more secure, more cost-effective, and is supported overwhelmingly by voters.

In the 2022 elections, Republicans who demand an excuse for absentee voting or require a photo ID and notary signature, will see their support at the ballot box plummet among their elderly and conservatives who historically vote absentee. Meanwhile, angry voters, losing their freedom to vote by mail (which 75% support), and having to stand in long lines, will punish the GOP at the polls, all because Republicans thought that restricting voting rights would give them an advantage.

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John A. Tures
John A. Tures

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in Georgia. He has written for academic journals on international and domestic politics, as well as Yahoo News, Huffington Post and The Observer.

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