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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

'Flawed logic' may be driving fight over mail-in voting, study says

An application for an absentee ballot for Nassau

An application for an absentee ballot for Nassau County. Mail-in voting remains a partisan flashpoint in other states. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

Four months after their standard-bearer Donald Trump lost the presidency, Republican officials are seeking to frustrate voting rights measures pushed by Democrats. In Georgia, which has become a national epicenter of partisan warfare, GOP lawmakers on Monday prepared to repeal "no-excuse" absentee voting.

"No excuse" in this case means any legitimate voter can order a mail-in ballot without qualification. But unless the goal is to appear restrictive, Republicans as a group may actually have little to gain tangibly from the legislation, according to a reputable nonpartisan study.

The Stanford University study team researched no-excuse voting in Texas. Only those 65 and over may vote by mail without explanation. But when compared with 64-year-old voters who required an excuse, there was no higher turnout among 65-year-olds, the research found.

The broader conclusions of their report are striking. "Despite the extraordinary circumstances of the 2020 election, vote-by-mail’s effect on turnout and on partisan outcomes is very muted," authors of the study wrote. "Voter interest appears to be far more important in driving turnout."

This defies the widespread impression that Joe Biden beat Trump because of mail-in votes and that the practice drove up participation to levels it would not have reached otherwise.

"The results of our paper do not offer a clear recommendation for the policy debate around vote-by-mail, but they do suggest that both sides of the debate are relying on flawed logic," the study says. "Vote-by-mail is an important policy that voters seem to like using, and it may be a particularly important tool during the pandemic."

States are largely responsible for setting ballot procedures. Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, have been pushing legislation that could authorize no-excuse balloting nationwide, drawing pushback from Republicans.

Over the weekend Biden marked the 56th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, where a peaceful voting rights protest became a violent police confrontation. Biden has said he seeks with Congress to restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the Supreme Court voided a central provision requiring nine states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval to change election laws.

Biden's unilateral executive order on the topic promises modest impact. But the partisan lines are brightly drawn.

On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected Trump's final appeal over November's election results, specifically his bid to nullify his loss in Wisconsin. Trump's lawyers tried to argue that the state violated the Constitution by expanding absentee voting amid the pandemic.

Nowhere in months of debates, lawsuits, recounts, recanvasses, rallies, certifications, press conferences and violent defiance of the process did any evidence surface of the "fix" against him that Trump said absentee ballots would bring. The charges were total fiction, as people in both parties and many states warned all along.

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