Up until now, the prospect of people voting by mail in unprecedented numbers in November has been mostly speculative, based on what happened in the spring and summer primaries, along with polling, and a general long-term trend towards this method of voting. But now as states are releasing data on general election mail ballot requests, it’s all getting very real, as the Associated Press reports:
Mail balloting is set to begin Friday in the presidential election as North Carolina starts sending out more than 600,000 ballots to voters — responding to a massive spike in requests that has played out across the country as voters look for a safer way to cast ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic….
In 2016, just one-quarter of the [national] electorate cast votes by mail. This time, election officials expect the majority of voters to use the method. Wisconsin has already received nearly 100,000 more requests than it did in the 2016 election. In Florida, 3,347,960 people requested ballots during the 2016 election. The state has already received 4,270,781 requests.
And so far (from states that can and do track the party ID of mail ballot applicants) the Democrat tilt of those who plan to vote by mail is unmistakable:
The GOP has historically dominated North Carolina mail voting, but this year the people asking for the ballots are generally not Republicans. Democrats requested more than 337,000 ballots, and independents 200,000, while only 103,000 were sought by Republicans. Voters in the state can continue to request the ballots up until Oct. 27, though that may be too close to the Nov. 3 election for them to receive the ballot and return it to their local elections office in time.
The Democratic lead in mail ballots isn’t only in North Carolina. In Maine, 60% of requests for mail ballots have been made by Democrats and 22% by independents. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have requested nearly triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans. In Florida, where the GOP once dominated mail voting, 47.5% of requests have come from Democrats and 32% from Republicans.
Now normally, that would indicate higher general interest in voting among Democrats, and perhaps an impending blue tsunami. But the president’s months-long campaign against voting by mail is clearly a big, and perhaps the biggest, factor in creating this partisan tilt, so it’s unclear whether it would exist otherwise. The other implication of the early evidence on partisan splits in willingness to vote by mail is that the Red Mirage scenario – where the first votes counted on Election Night are in-person ballots that skew heavily Republican, leading to a premature Trump victory claim coupled with delegitimization of subsequently counted mail ballots as fraudulent – remains a very real threat.