BYU professor publishes study showing voting by mail does not favor either party

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A Utah County Official Ballot Drop Box is located on the north side of the Provo Library. BYU professor Michael Barber recently published a study that found voting by mail is an effective way to vote and does not favor either party. (Preston Crawley)

BYU political science professor Michael Barber recently co-authored a study published in the journal Science Advances to understand the partisan and participatory impacts of voting by mail.

Barber and his co-author, University of Virginia political science professor John B. Holbein, gathered nationwide county-level data from 1992-2018 and more than 40 million individual-letter voter records.

Barber said after analyzing the data, he was surprised by the results of his research. “I anticipated that vote by mail would increase turnout by a larger amount. The results show that voter turnout increased by only two to three percentage points.”

He explained that many people are making assumptions about one party being favored in the results of voting by mail. But Barber and Holbein’s study shows voting by mail is an effective way to vote and does not favor either party.

“There are some reasonable explanations as to why it might benefit Republicans and explanations as to why it might benefit Democrats. I think what might be going on is that it benefits both parties,” Barber said. Data from the study reflects Barber’s statement. His results show that only 0.7% more Democrats vote by mail than Republicans.

States have begun to make changes in regards to voting by mail because of the pandemic, according to voting information found at usa.gov. In some states, all voters will be sent a ballot in the mail, while others can only request a mail-in ballot with a justifiable absentee excuse.

Many BYU students are registered voters from other states across the U.S. and cannot return home to vote in person, like Brett Nelson from Texas and Maile Dillender from Washington. These students said they find mail-in voting to be a necessary part of participating in democracy, and it allows student voters to feel their voices are being heard while also staying safe in current circumstances.

Dillender, a first-time voter in a presidential election, said mail-in voting should be available for anyone who needs to use it, whether it be busy voters whose schedules keep them from the polls on election day or high-risk people who cannot linger in public with large crowds.

“If we want to hear the voice of all the people, all the people have to be able to vote and I think mail-in voting allows for that to happen,” she said.

Nelson said he plans on voting by mail in this coming election. “Voting by mail is essential now, and I would argue always, to keep those at risk safe, slow the spread of COVID-19 and provide opportunities for all to vote.”

Barber said he found great satisfaction at the end of the research knowing that his efforts would help people understand the important questions on the impacts of voting by mail. He said the research can give confidence to voters seeking fairness in these upcoming elections.

“Voting by mail is a safe and effective policy that is in many ways perfectly tailored for the situation that we find ourselves in now — in the middle of a pandemic. It is a great way to administer an election without having people gather in large groups,” Barber said.

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