Turnout surges after states expand mail-in voting

The Hill reports states that moved to rapidly expand mail-in balloting amid the coronavirus pandemic are seeing some of their highest levels of voter turnout in years, even as President Trump looks to clamp down on such efforts.

In at least four of the eight states that held primaries on Tuesday, turnout surpassed 2016 levels, with most of the votes being cast via mail, according to an analysis of election returns by The Hill. Each of those states took steps earlier this year to send absentee ballot applications to all of their registered voters.

In Iowa, for instance, total turnout reached 24 percent, up from about 15 percent in the state’s 2016 primaries and its highest ever turnout for a primary. But more strikingly, of the roughly 524,000 votes cast, some 411,000 of them came from absentee ballots – a nearly 1,000 percent increase over 2016 levels.

The high turnout could encourage more states to take similar steps ahead of the November general elections. Trump has resisted such efforts, even threatening last month to hold up federal funding to Michigan and Nevada over state election officials’ decisions to send mail-in ballot applications to registered voters.

The president’s argument against expanding mail-in voting is two-fold: he has claimed that it not only increases the risk of voter fraud, but it gives a structural advantage to Democrats. Elections experts have knocked down those claims, noting that fraud is exceedingly rare in all instances and that there’s little to no evidence that widespread mail-in voting benefits one party over another.

In the states that held primaries on Tuesday, however, the decision to expand mail-in voting was largely nonpartisan, with both Democratic and Republican officials throwing their support behind more robust vote-by-mail efforts.

In Montana, where the governor is a Democrat and the secretary of state is a Republican, Tuesday’s primaries were conducted entirely by mail, and every registered voter was sent a ballot ahead of June 2. As of noon on Friday, turnout hovered near 55 percent, up from about 45 percent in 2016, setting an all-time record for a primary election in the state.

In South Dakota, where Republicans dominate the state government, turnout rose to 28 percent from 22 percent in 2016. Of the more than 154,000 votes cast, absentee ballots accounted for about 89,000, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. By comparison, far more than the roughly 19,000 were requested in the lead up to the 2016 primary.

And in New Mexico, voter turnout in the June 2 primary stood at 40 percent, up from about 34 percent in 2016. Of the nearly 400,000 votes cast, more than 270,000 came from absentee ballots, according to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D). As of Friday, votes were still being tallied in parts of the state.

For mail-in voting advocates, the surge in turnout on Tuesday was a major victory in the biggest test for vote-by-mail since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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