WASHINGTON – Two-thirds of Americans support voting by mail as an alternative to voting in person on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll from USA TODAY and Suffolk University.
But while Democrats and independent voters overwhelmingly back vote-by-mail, the majority of Republican voters oppose it.
The poll found 65% of Americans support vote-by-mail as an alternative, a greater than 2-to-1 margin over the 32% of Americans who oppose the option. Three percent said they were undecided.
Findings differ dramatically by party. Eighty-four percent of Democratic voters said they support voting by mail and just 14% said they oppose it. Less than half of Republicans polled, 43%, said they support vote-by-mail as an alternative while more than half, 53%, were opposed.
Self-identified independent voters said they back vote-by-mail during the pandemic by a 66%-31% margin.
“I think it shows that people are open to alternative methods of voting, provided that they’re safe, and they don’t want to see democracy jeopardized in any way by the virus,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.
The poll, taken April 21-25, was based on responses from 1,000 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The findings come as Democrats, from the party’s presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden to former First Lady Michelle Obama, have rallied behind a rapid expansion of vote-by-mail to prepare for COVID-19 still posing health concerns during the November election.
But President Donald Trump has said he opposes vote-by-mail expansion, alleging it leads to voter fraud and favors Democratic candidates. Vote-by-mail advocates dispute both claims. Although some Republican governors and secretaries of state favor more absentee voting, others have said a large-scale expansion in six months is unrealistic.
“Because Trump is in power, his M.O. has to be, let’s replicate as closely as possible the conditions under which he was elected. That stands by the methods by which people will cast ballots,” Paleologos said. “Anything that varies from that template, he’s going to oppose vehemently.
He added: “The question is whether or not people who understand how widespread this problem is and how it’s impacting so many different aspects of people’s lives, are they willing to be flexible so that democracy isn’t impacted adversely in any way?”
than two-thirds of voting in three other states – Arizona, California and Montana – is conducted by mail.
In 16 states, voters can receive mail ballots but only if they meet certain exceptions such as being 65 years or older, having a disability, or being out of the county on Election Day and during the early voting period.
Leaders in some of these 16 states, including Delaware and Connecticut, have taken steps toward expanded vote-by-mail or pledged support. But other states led by Republicans, particularly in the South, have expressed concerns about changes
The state of Tennessee was sued on Friday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Campaign Legal Center – on behalf of two voters and five organizations, including Tennessee’s NAACP chapter – over its absentee voting law, which the plaintiffs said is among the nation’s most restrictive.
The groups argue the U.S. Constitution does not allow Tennessee to require voters to “jeopardize their health and safety” in order to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
The poll found even greater support for absentee voting as an alternative during the pandemic –74% of Americans in favor and 21% in opposition – and in-person early voting, 74%-24%. Americans are split on online voting, with 48% opposing and 47% supporting.
Voting rights advocates, including the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York School of Law, have sounded the alarm about the urgency for quick action to build the necessary infrastructure for vote-by-mail on a national scale.
Their fear is a nationwide repeat of last month’s Wisconsin primary when voters were forced to weigh safety with exercising their democratic rights. Many stood in line for hours wearing face masks to brave their way to the polls, particularly in the state’s largest city, Milwaukee.
But the estimated price-tag needed to pay for everything from postage stamps to signature-identification software is at least $2 billion The CARES Act, approved by Congress last month, allocated $400 million to election security amid the pandemic, but states aren’t required to use the money on vote-by-mail.
Senate Democrats, led by Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Ron Wyden of Oregon, introduced the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act in March that seeks to ensure all voters nationwide can vote absentee and at least 20 days of early voting. The bill, which lacks any Republican co-sponsors, is a long shot to pass in the GOP-led Senate.
“Politicians follow all of the polls very closely,” Paleologos said. “It’s not the pollsters talking here. It’s people. And people are sending a clear message about how willing they are to expand the opportunities to vote such that they don’t jeopardize their own health or well-being or their family’s health and well-being.”