Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Restricting mail-in ballots might backfire on Republicans

Make no mistake, I think this effort, and all the other efforts to restrict voting, are awful. And I'm not trying to minimize the shocking anti-democratic sentiment or the overt racism behind that legislation. But I also think it is quite possible that the restrictions on mail-in voting will not help the GOP quite as much as the sponsors think they will.

Mail in voting was not always seen as something benefitting democrats. In fact, when PA passed universal mail-in voting in 2019, it was broadly supported by Republicans in the legislature (some of the same Republican legislators who later went to court claiming that the 2020 vote was invalid because of the mail in votes). Historically, mail in voting was viewed as favoring Republicans because the people who tended to vote by mail (the elderly and members of the military stationed elsewhere) leaned Republican. That all changed when Trump went on his anti-mail ballot jihad in 2020.

So now the prevailing wisdom is that voting by mail is something that Democrats use more than Republicans. And that seemed to be true in 2020. But there are a few things that make 2020 a little different. First, there was the pandemic, which gave people who would otherwise vote in person and inventive to do it by mail instead. Second, there was the politicization of the pandemic, which meant that Democrats tended to take the social distancing restrictions more seriously than Republicans, which, I think, encouraged Democrats to vote by mail more than Republicans. Third, there was President Trump's statements claiming that vote by mail led to fraud and was not as reliable as voting in person, which obviously would be more influential on Republicans than Democrats.

None of those factors are likely to be in play in 2022 or 2024. The pandemic should be over by then, or at least it will in Democratic areas where people get vaccinated. And while Trump may have made suspicion of mailed votes part of Republican orthodoxy, I doubt anyone else will talk about it nearly as much as he did in 2020. It is quite possible that mail-in votes returns to being something that Republicans do more than Democrats, just as Republicans are restricting the ability to vote by mail.