Poll: Most Support Expansion of Absentee Voting During Pandemic

Applications for mail-in ballots are seen at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland on July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(CN) — A majority of Americans now support no-excuse early and absentee voting with the coronavirus pandemic worsening just months before the presidential election, according to a poll released Monday, but stark partisan divides remain as more states embrace mail-in ballots.    

In a survey of 4,708 U.S. adults between June 16 and 22, the Pew Research Center found that 65% supported early voting and absentee ballots without a documented reason.

However, Democratic respondents supported those measures by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1 compared to Republican respondents. Eighty-three percent of Democrats said they supported no-excuse absentee voting, but only 44% of Republicans said the same.

Instead, most Republicans (55%) only supported absentee ballots with a documented reason, and 37% of GOP respondents said Covid-19 is not an acceptable excuse. Only 16% of Democrats supported conditional absentee ballots.

Republican opposition to no-excuse absentee voting has grown in the past two years. In an October 2018 survey, 57% of Republicans said anyone should be able to vote early or absentee without a reason, but that number dropped by 13% in the latest survey. Democrats have remained steady in their support for no-excuse absentee voting at 83% in both polls.  

The pushback from GOP voters was higher in states where reasons are required for absentee ballots. Sixty-one percent of Republicans surveyed by Pew supported conditional absentee ballots in states that already require a documented excuse, whereas only 52% said the same in states with no conditions.

Concerns about voter fraud likely fueled broad Republican opposition to no-excuse absentee voting, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly stated his opposition to such measures as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.  

“RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS,” Trump tweeted in all capital letters on June 22. “IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES.”

Republicans were the only demographic measured in the Pew survey to suggest that no-excuse absentee ballots would affect election security, with a 59% majority who said an expansion of mail-in voting would make elections less secure.

In contrast, liberals and majorities from all measured racial and education level demographics said that no-excuse absentee voting would not make elections any less secure, particularly among Democrats generally (79%), Black respondents (70%) and postgraduates (68%).

The political fight over expanded absentee voting is reflected in court battles in states where excuses are required, such as Texas.

After the Texas Supreme Court declined to mandate no-excuse absentee ballots, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan joined a chorus of election officials in other major Texas cities Monday calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue of absentee ballots “and rule quickly.”

“Holding the November election without allowing eligible voters under 65 to vote by mail creates multiple problems of crowds, lines and the resulting risk of Covid-19 exposure,” Ryan said in a statement. “Crowd and line length will be exacerbated as the repeal of the time-saving straight-ticket voting method goes into effect this November.”

The nation’s highest court refused last month to reverse the Fifth Circuit’s stay of a San Antonio federal judge’s order that would have let any eligible voter qualify for a mail-in ballot during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Ryan noted that a Fifth Circuit panel won’t consider the merits of the case until late August and absentee ballots are sent to qualifying Texas voters in mid-September. He wants the justices to get involved sooner.

“Action by the Supreme Court need not be at the last minute by waiting for the Fifth Circuit’s September or later resolution,” Ryan said.

In Tennessee, a state judge chastised election officials for ignoring new absentee ballot regulations that confused voters trying to apply for mail-in voting.   

“Shame on you for not following that procedure and just taking matters into your own hands,” Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle told attorneys from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office during a virtual hearing June 11.

In contrast, municipalities in Maine encouraged voters to utilize absentee ballots in the state’s primary election last week.  

The Pew survey shows that while a majority of Americans may support no-excuse absentee voting with the coronavirus crisis at the forefront of their concerns about fair elections, Republicans in particular had the opposite concern — that allowing voters to file absentee ballots without an excuse invites voter fraud.

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