ATLANTA – The great vote-by-mail wave appears to be receding just as quickly as it arrived.
After tens of millions of people in the United States opted for mail ballots during the pandemic election of 2020, voters in early primary states are returning in droves to in-person voting this year.
In Georgia, one of the mostly hotly contested states, about 85,000 voters had requested mail ballots for the May 24 primary, as of Thursday. That is a dramatic decrease from the almost 1 million who cast mail ballots in the state's 2020 primary at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The trend was similar in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia, which held primaries this month; comparisons were not available for Nebraska, another early primary state.
A step back in mail balloting was expected given easing concerns about COVID-19, but some election officials and voting experts had predicted that far more voters would seek out the convenience of mail voting once they experienced it.
Helping drive the reversal is the rollback of temporary rules expanding mail ballots in 2020, combined with distrust of the process among Republicans and concerns about new voting restrictions among Democrats.
And a year and a half of former President Donald Trump and his allies pushing false claims about mail voting to explain his loss to Democrat Joe Biden has also taken a toll on voter confidence.
“It's unfortunate because our election system has been mischaracterized and the integrity of our elections questioned,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. “Mail ballots are a safe and secure method of voting used by millions of Americans, including myself.”
A record 43% of voters in the U.S. cast mail ballots in 2020, compared with 24.5% in 2016, according to the commission's survey of local election officials. The number of voters who used in-person early voting also increased, although the jump was not quite as large as in mail ballots, the survey found.
Before the November 2020 election, 12 states expanded access to mail ballots by loosening certain requirements. Five more either mailed ballots to all eligible voters or allowed local officials to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year, eight states will mail ballots to every eligible voter.
In Georgia, state officials had adopted no-excuse mail ballots and three weeks of early, in-person voting before the pandemic. Laws surrounding mail voting changed after the 2020 election, amid Trump's effort to discredit the outcome after his narrow loss in the state.
There is no evidence to support Trump's claims of widespread fraud or a conspiracy to steal the election. Judges, including some appointed by Trump, dismissed numerous lawsuits challenging the results.