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%-33% 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?"
Thirty-four states already have "no-excuse" absentee voting laws under which citizens either automatically receive ballots at home or can get them upon request.
Voting by mail is most prevalent in the West. Five states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – hold all-mail elections in which all registered voters are mailed ballots. More 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."
A group of more than 800 public health experts on Tuesday called on Congress to fund mail-in voting amid rising concerns about in-person voting related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The experts - made up of professors, phycologists and doctors led by the Center for American Progress - sent a letter to the House and Senate asking that states be given $4 billion to address moving to mail-in voting.
These funds would cover the mailing and printing of ballots, securing ballot request systems and staffing, among other issues.
"In order to ensure the integrity of the electoral process and protect the public health at the same time, it is incumbent on our leaders to prepare for a Presidential election by mail, in which ballots are sent to all registered voters, to allow them to vote from home and ensure their health and safety in the event of a new outbreak of SARS-CoV-2," the public health experts wrote.
The experts used the recent Wisconsin primary elections as an example of how COVID-19 can spread if Americans are forced to vote in-person, after dozens of individuals there tested positive for the coronavirus in the weeks since the election.
"Many of us in public health looked on with horror as thousands of people in Wisconsin were forced to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying home to protect themselves from exposure to the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2," the group wrote. "Those choosing the former were imperiling their own lives by voting in person that day."
Congress already appropriated $400 million for states to address election concerns during the pandemic as part of the $2 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March. These funds were on top of millions already sent to the states to boost election security by Congress in December.
But the public health experts said Tuesday that these funds were not enough, pointing to a study by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice that states would need $4 billion to successfully put on elections this year.
The group of experts included professors from dozens of academic institutions, including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Brown universities, along with psychologists from across the country and doctors within multiple health care systems or hospitals.
The letter was rolled out during a press call on mail-in voting that featured Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). Klobuchar and Coons, along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have led efforts in the Senate over the past two months to fund mail-in voting.
"As more than 800 health officials say in their letter, we have to think about public health and safety, no one should be forced to choose between their right to vote and their health," Coons said during the call.
Coons serves as the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee tasked with election funding. He said past debates around sending states election funding have been "contentious," and that it had been difficult to secure Republican support.
Many Republicans, including President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), have voiced opposition to mail-in voting, citing concerns around voter fraud and that it could hurt Republican election chances.
But Klobuchar said that support for mail-in voting from leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former first lady Michelle Obama, who have both backed the effort, may sway Republicans to back including the funds in future coronavirus stimulus packages.
"I just think that it will be very, very hard in the end, with Speaker Pelosi leading the way, for our Republican colleagues to vote down a bill," Klobuchar said.
More than 800 public health experts
call on Congress to fund mail-in voting.