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Conventional wisdom holds that expanding mail-in voting would be better for Texas Democrats.

A recent study found that vote-by-mail programs do not benefit one political party at the expense of the other, despite conventional wisdom that it increases turnout among Democratic voters.


Stanford University researchers looked at voter data from 1998 to 2018 in California, Utah and Washington, three states that staggered rollouts of vote-by-mail programs in recent years. Their findings? Expanding voting by mail did increase turnout, but only by two percentage points and not for one party in particular.

Lead researcher Daniel Thompson said vote-by-mail expansion increases the probability that someone who would normally vote actually follows through, rather than driving new or unlikely voters to the polls. "That's why the effect is neutral," he told Austonia.

What does this mean for Texas?

Texas allows mail-in ballots in specific, limited cases: for those over 65, with a disability, out of town during an election or in jail.

Despite the study's findings, vote-by-mail is a political issue in Texas. Many Republican officials, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, oppose expansion, which they say will lead to fraud. Democrats, on the other hand, argue that failing to let people vote by mail is tantamount to voter suppression.

A flurry of recent lawsuits—led by the state Democratic Party and other organizations—have attempted to expand mail-in voting in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but so far, judges have ruled that fear of contracting the coronavirus does not make someone eligible to vote by mail.

Nonetheless, Travis County has seen a near record-breaking number of vote-by-mail ballot applications ahead of the July 14 runoff election.

What happens in November?

Thompson said it's too early to tell if COVID-19 will affect turnout along partisan lines.

"While our paper can answer the question of the partisan consequences of vote-by-mail expansion in normal times, we can't say much yet about what will happen in the fall," he explained.

But it may serve as a reference point for states considering whether to expand vote-by-mail in the face of the pandemic—a move most Americans (and 85% of Austonia readers) support and some states have already taken.

"There are a lot of questions about how we would implement vote-by mail. How much it would cost, and what groups it might affect," Thompson's co-author Andrew Hall said in an April 16 release about the study's findings. "Our research here doesn't speak to all of these questions, but it addresses one key issue—and shows that, in normal times, expanding vote-by-mail does not advantage either party."
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