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COVID-19 Reduces Comfort With In-Person Voting, Does Not Increase Confidence With Mail-in Voting, UMD Study Finds

By Sara Gavin

Concerns about contracting the coronavirus are making voters wary of casting ballots in person, but they’re still not sold on voting by mail either, finds new research from the UMD Department of Government and Politics.

Professor Mike Hanmer and graduate student Alauna Safarpour surveyed 1,313 adult U.S. citizens across the country between April 28-30 following Wisconsin’s primary election in early April. While many states postponed primaries, Wisconsin forged ahead in a move widely and publicly criticized by health officials concerned about the spread of COVID-19 through in-person voting.

Previous research demonstrates that comfort is linked to the likelihood of voting, meaning fears about the coronavirus could translate into people opting out of voting altogether.

“Our findings suggest election officials still need to convince voters they will be safe if they vote in person, and that their votes will be counted accurately if they vote by mail,” said Safarpour. “It’s important that Americans feel comfortable however they vote and no one should be forced to choose between their health and participating in our democracy.”

Hamner, research director of the UMD Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, noted increased efforts this fall to encourage in-person voting and to make polling sites safer than they were during primary season.

“We have seen a great deal of energy spent on convincing people voting early in person is safe, but survey research shows many still have concerns about voting by mail,” he said.

The study authors said their results, published this month in the Journal of Experimental Political Science, have implications beyond Election 2020, as many analysts believe voting by mail and early voting will continue to trend upward.

“Americans aren’t yet comfortable with casting ballots through the mail and this is an issue we should all be concerned about moving forward regardless of where things stand with the pandemic,” said Hanmer.

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