Convenience voting lets voters cast ballots on their terms

Daron Shaw
Commentary

Daron Shaw

Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Video Library |

The 2020 elections revealed significant changes to the American electorate. But the biggest change wasn’t who voters supported–it was how they cast their ballots.

Convenience voting, which includes early in-person, mail-in, and absentee voting, became more popular than ever. In fact, 72 percent of voters used one of those voting methods.

MIT Election Data Science Lab

“Now voters seem to like these practices,” Professor Daron Shaw explained. “I mean, who wouldn’t? But it’s unclear whether, and this may be surprising, it’s unclear whether convenience voting actually increases turnout.”

States around the country significantly increased voting options in 2020 to prevent Covid transmission. But a Stanford study found that people who used those options would have voted even if they weren’t available.

“One of the axioms in practical politics for a number of years was, is that what early voting allows you to do is convert someone who’s an election day voter into an early voter. But it doesn’t actually add voters to the tally,” Shaw explained.

MIT Election Data Science Lab

MIT data showed the 2020 election was the first time the predominant voting method nationwide was by mail and absentee, totaling 46 percent of the votes cast.

“The mail-in practices with respect to absentee ballots or states with just pure mail-in systems vary considerably,” Shaw said.

For instance, in Arizona, ballots must be received no later than 7 p.m. on election day. In California, they have to be postmarked by election day but can arrive up to seven days after.

“So the tabulation processing of ballots in California is pretty tricky because sometimes election officials won’t receive a ballot until multiple days after the election,” Shaw explained.

There is one downside of early voting. According to Professor Shaw, it can lead to an asymmetry of information.

“We know a lot about presidential candidates prior to election day. So the fact that somebody votes early is probably not terribly consequential. But in a down ballot race, in a city council race, in a race where you don’t know very much about the candidates running for office, it’s possible that somebody that casts their ballot three weeks before election day is going to miss out on substantively important information,” he said.

The 2020 elections revealed significant changes to the American electorate. But the biggest change wasn’t who voters supported, it was how they cast their ballot.

72 percent took advantage of what’s called convenience voting – which includes early in-person, mail-in and absentee voting, among others. 

Shaw says: “Now voters seem to like these practices. I mean, who wouldn’t?” 

That’s professor Daron Shaw from the University of Texas at Austin.

Video 4 Shaw SOT: But it’s unclear whether, and this may be surprising, it’s unclear whether convenience voting actually increases turnout.” 

States around the country significantly increased voting options in 2020 to prevent Covid transmission.  

But a Stanford study found that people who used those options would have voted even if they weren’t available.

Shaw says: “One of the axioms in practical politics for a number of years, is that what early voting allows you to do is convert someone who’s an election day voter into an early voter. But it doesn’t actually add voters to the tally.” 

MIT data shows the 2020 election was the first time the predominant voting method nationwide was by mail and absentee, totalling 46 percent of the votes cast. 

Shaw says: “The mail in practices with respect to absentee ballots or states with pure mail in systems vary considerably.” 

For instance in Arizona ballots must be received no later than 7pm on election day. 

In California, they have to be postmarked by election day, but can arrive up to seven days after. 

Shaw says: “So the tabulation processing of ballots in California is pretty tricky because sometimes election officials won’t receive a ballot until multiple days after the election” 

There is one downside of early voting. It can lead to what’s called an asymmetry of information. 

Shaw says: we know a lot about presidential candidates prior to election day. So the fact that somebody votes early is probably not terribly consequential. But in a down ballot race, in a city council race, in a race where you don’t know very much about the candidates running for office, it’s possible that somebody that casts their ballot three weeks before election day is going to miss out on substantively important information.” 

So to wrap things up, voters like convenience voting, but it does not lead to a big increase in turnout. 

Want to learn more about voting in America? Continue watching our voting and election series on youtube and straightarrownews.com. 

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