ACCEPTANCE OF VOTE BY MAIL IN WEST VIRGINIA: A NATURAL EXPERIMENT
Vote by mail will never come about by citizen referendum in West Virginia as it did in Oregon. Instead, vote by mail policy must be devised without evidence of its potential for acceptance.
Would vote by mail be accepted by West Virginia voters? How can we know in advance?
We can use what social scientists call a “natural experiment.” A natural experiment is used to assess the impact of a policy by proxy, when the actual policy cannot be studied directly. In West Virginia, we cannot study acceptance of vote by mail directly because no such policy exists.
Because of the pandemic, Secretary of State (SOS) Warner decided to send every registered voter an absentee ballot application for the 2020 Primary. While absentee voting, with its application, is not true vote by mail, data from the 2020 Primary may help us gauge acceptance potential for some type of mail-in voting. Natural experiments like this don’t happen every day; it is a gift to learn from.
Was the natural experiment a success?
What did we learn from voter acceptance of absentee voting in the 2020 Primary?
The data suggest the answer on success is a qualified yes. We saw widespread acceptance of absentee voting, which involved both returning applications and ballots largely by mail.
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