Election Universe

What the last midterms taught us on the road to 2020 elections

What the last midterms taught us on the road to 2020 elections
August 26 2019, 15:57

The 2020 U.S. general elections are around the corner. Approximately four hundred more days to go. The Election Commissions across the country have already started voting preparations, which include assessing and acting upon lessons learned from the last midterm polls.

Both the U.S. Census Bureau and the Election Assistance Commission recently released crucial findings on voting trends and election management from the November 2018 elections. The data found can be used to support new election policies.

The EAC conducted the Election Administration and Voting Survey. This survey covers issues such as how data can be used to address election security, improve voter registration, modernize election management systems, and enact best practices for serving voters in the military forces or living overseas.

On the other hand, the U.S. Census Bureau just published the Voting and Registration Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS), as it has been doing every two years following national elections since 1964. It reports on social, economic, and demographic features of American voters.

An impressive voter turnout

History was made in 2018 as voters across the U.S. turned out in numbers not seen since the 1914 midterms. Nationwide voter turnout was 53.4 percent, most substantial increase from a previous midterm in U.S. history. Participation rates among all ages and major racial and ethnic groups were higher than in the 2014 polls.

According to Brian Miller, from Nonprofit VOTE, some local election policies successfully encouraged higher turnout. “The top 10 states – those with voter turnout averaging 61% – had policies that promote greater participation in our democracy. Seven of the top 10 states had Same-Day Registration that lets voters register or fix a problem with their registration when they vote. Three of the top ten allow their citizens to Vote at Home with ballots that can be mailed in or dropped off at a nearby secure vote site. A relatively new policy, Automatic Voter Registration, made its appearance in the top 10 and helped many states set registration records.”

Three challenges for next year

1.      The youth vote

In 2018, young voters (18- to 29-year-olds) had the largest percentage increase in voter turnout, from 19.9 to 35.6 percent over the last two midterms. It is indeed a novelty because, since 1988, this group comprised the smallest percentage of voters.

Based on its success during the midterms, preregistration laws are being evaluated by commissions to promote the youth vote for 2020.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “as states have worked to boost civic engagement and voter participation, most have adopted preregistration laws or laws that allow teenagers to register to vote before they will be eligible to cast ballots. States vary in terms of their preregistration age limits, but 11 states, including California, Colorado, and Louisiana, allow U.S. citizens as young as 16 years old to sign up.”

Depending on the model the authors used for their analysis, preregistration laws can increase the probability that young voters will participate in elections by an average of 2 percentage points to 13 percentage points.

2.      The gender gap

Women also left their mark in politics in the 2018 midterm elections. A record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives, and a higher percentage of women voted than men (55 percent compared to 52 percent).

Younger women voted at higher rates than men (38 percent of 18-29 years old vs. 33 percent of men,) but women age 65 and older voted at lower rates than men in the same age range.

The challenge is now to keep female voters and candidates motivated to participate in the 2020 polls.

3.      Alternative voting methods

Forty percent of American voters used an alternative voting method in 2018, which is a trend that is likely to continue in upcoming elections. According to the surveys, 39.8 percent of voters cast a ballot using a method other than voting in person on Election Day (e.g., early in-person or by mail, or absentee voting), an increase of 8.7 percent from 2014.

Even though the percentage of citizens using early voting or mail-in options usually declines in midterm elections, the rate in November 2018 was actually higher than the 2016 presidential election, when 31.1 percent of voters used such methods.

In the midterms, early voting was available in 39 states. Three states (Washington, Oregon, and Colorado) have all-mail voting systems. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently 13 states where early voting is not offered, and an excuse is required to vote with an absentee ballot.

All U.S. states will provide an absentee ballot to voters who request one. The voter may return the ballot by mail or in person. In 20 states, justifiable reason is required to obtain an absentee ballot, while 27 states and the District of Columbia permit any voter to use an absentee ballot without justification.

Election Commissioners across the U.S. have the opportunity to use for their advantage several lessons learned from the 2018 midterms. It will be challenging, but with the proper technology and efficient election management services, it will be easier to face the 2020 general elections successfully.