The Conservative Case for Expanded Access to Absentee Ballots


Marc Hyden
Director, State Government Affairs
Steven Greenhut
Resident Senior Fellow and Western Region Director, State Affairs
Kevin Kosar
Former Vice President, Research Partnerships

Key Points

Voting absentee has been done in America since the Civil War.

Allowing the public to vote absentee does not advantage any political party.

Expanding absentee voting is what the public wants, especially with COVID-19 still raging.

Press Release

Conservatives Should Support Expanded Absentee Voting

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Absentee ballot voting and voting by mail has become a highly salient issue in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted state primaries and could hamper the autumn general elections, has forced policymakers to look for ways to conduct elections while many Americans are locked down and fearful of crowded places. The most obvious “Plan B” is to permit more citizens to receive their ballots by mail, and either to mail them back or to place them in local drop boxes. And, indeed, voting in this way is a tried-and-true method that has long been the predominant form of voting for members of the military.

Even pre-COVID-19, the public’s use of absentee ballots has been growing steadily. For example, as the U.S. Elections Commission reports:

The number of absentee ballots cast by absentee voters nearly doubled, from 14.7 million in 2004 to 24.8 million in 2016. Mail voting was tracked beginning in 2008, and the number showed a steady increase through 2016, more than tripling from 2.4 million in 2008 to 8.2 million in 2016.

Unfortunately, public discussion of absentee voting—especially on the political right—has been clouded by confusion and groundless accusations about the practice. Most notoriously, President Donald J. Trump—who has voted by mail both as a Democrat and Republican—has claimed that expanded voting by mail will not “work out well for Republicans” and is ripe for fraud.

However, such rhetoric is simply untrue, and conservatives should embrace the expansion of absentee voting. Voting absentee or by mail is a safe, trusted and age-old practice. Moreover, expanded access to absentee voting comports with conservative principles, which helps explain why a number of conservative state policymakers have advanced proposals to achieve it. Finally, and critically, policymakers should take note that polling data indicate very clearly that the public strongly favors expanded access to absentee voting and that its results are partisan-neutral.

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