Lindsay Nielson is a researcher at Fors Marsh Group, where she works with federal clients to conduct research and data collection projects to better understand the state of American elections and voting. She is an expert on voting behavior and election administration, and her research on topics, such as voter identification, voter privacy, polling place lines, and congressional elections, has been published in multiple academic journals. Dr. Nielson holds a PhD in political science from the University of California, San Diego, and has taught courses on American politics at Bucknell University and the University of San Diego.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has released the results of its 2020 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) and Election Administration Policy Survey (Policy Survey). The EAVS provides a rich source of data on the election policies that were in place for the 2020 General Election, how voters participated in the election, and how the election was administered in nearly 6,500 jurisdictions in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. Collectively, the EAVS and Policy Survey provide the most comprehensive source of state and local jurisdiction-level data on election administration in the United States, and these data are used by policymakers, researchers, journalists, and the public to understand election dynamics in the United States.
It’s no surprise that 2020 was, to put it lightly, a highly unusual election year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many election officials to de-emphasize in-person Election Day voting and pivot to more socially distant forms of voting, including early voting and mail voting. 2020 was also a high-profile presidential election year that many analysts predicted would see record voter turnout. The EAVS and Policy Survey serve as a record of the tremendous efforts that America’s election officials undertook to ensure that the 2020 General Election was conducted in a safe and secure manner. As EAC’s implementing partner on the EAVS since 2016, Fors Marsh Group’s (FMG) Election Team is eager to share the important findings from this year’s data.
Highest Recorded Voter Turnout
Voter turnout was the highest recorded in any EAVS to date, at 67.7% of the citizen voting age population. Turnout increased by 6.7 percentage points over 2016 levels.
Voting By Mail Was the Most Popular Voting Method
For the first time recorded in the EAVS, voting by mail was the most popular method for voters to cast their ballots, with 43.1% of voters voting in this manner—a nearly 20 percentage point increase over 2018 mail voting levels. In the 2012–2018 General Elections, a majority of voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day; the 2020 election broke this pattern, as only 30.5% of voters voted using this method and in-person Election Day voting was the third most common form of voting behind mail voting and in-person early voting.
Highest Recorded Voter Registration Numbers
Voter registration numbers were also at an all-time high for the EAVS, with more than 209 million active registered voters reported nationwide and more than 103 million voter registration applications received since the 2018 General Election. Motor vehicle departments were the most common source of registration applications, accounting for 39.3% of the applications.
New Poll Worker Recruitment Efforts Paid Off
Efforts by the EAC, state election offices, and other organizations to recruit poll workers to assist at the polling places paid off, as the age distribution of poll workers trended slightly younger and jurisdictions reported that recruiting poll workers was less difficult compared to the 2016 General Election.
More States Opted Into All-Mail Elections
The number of states that conducted an all-mail election, in which every registered voter or every active registered voter is automatically mailed a ballot, doubled from seven in 2018 to 14 in 2020. For some of those states the change was temporary as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others plan to make the change permanent.
Majority of States Conducted Post-Election Audits
More than 75% of states reported conducting a post-election tabulation audit to ensure that voting tabulators operated accurately and to strengthen voters’ confidence in the election outcome and election administration processes.
Overseas Citizens Continued to Ensure Their Voice Was Heard
Overseas citizens continued to account for a larger share of the voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) than did uniformed service voters. More than 1.2 million ballots were transmitted to UOCAVA voters and more than 900,000 of these ballots were returned by voters.
FMG is committed to assisting election officials at the local, state, and federal levels with using data to better understand the elections sphere and gain actionable insights to improve election administration. Contact us to learn how our team of experts can assist you.