Voters in Wisconsin can choose from three widely accessible means of voting. In addition to voting in person on election day, they can vote by mail or vote in-person at an early voting location. (Technically, this kind of early voting is called “in-person absentee” voting in Wisconsin.)
Historically, voting in-person on election day has been the most popular means of casting a ballot in Wisconsin. That changed abruptly when the spring 2020 election was controversially held at the height of the initial COVID-19 shutdown. Ninety percent of voters voted at their polling place on election day in the 2016 spring contest. Just 29 percent did so in 2020. Instead, 59 percent voted by mail and 12 percent voted early in person.
It’s a safe bet that absentee and mail voting will also increase in the general election this fall. President Trump has speculated on numerous occasions that mail voting will be used fraudulently—a view uniformly contradicted by Republican, Democratic, and nonpartisan election administrators alike. Nonetheless, the growing controversy over mail-in ballots may have changed some people’s minds.
When asked in early May, 39 percent of Wisconsin registered voters told the Marquette Law Poll they planned to vote on election day in November, and 43 percent planned on voting absentee by mail. In early August those planning on voting on election day had risen to 46 percent and those planning to vote by mail had fallen to 35 percent. The trend continued into early September when 50 percent planned on election day voting and 32 percent planned to vote by mail. The share planning to vote early in person showed less change. It was 11 percent in May, 12 percent in August, and 14 percent in September.
The table below shows voter modality intentions by party identification. Republicans consistently favored in-person voting. Even in May, 60 percent of them planned to vote in person this November compared to just 20 percent of Democrats. An increasing share of each party plans to vote in person during the general election, but the gulf between the parties remains enormous. Seventy-one percent of Republicans intend to visit their polling place in November compared to 1-in-3 Democrats and just under half of Independents.
Similar shares of white, Black, and Hispanic respondents expect to vote by mail, but Black Wisconsin voters are much more likely to vote early in-person. They are the least likely to plan on voting in-person on election day.
Plans to vote other than in-person on election day are strongly correlated with personal concern over COVID-19. Pooling all three waves, 58 percent of those “very worried” about “experiencing coronavirus” plan to vote by mail, as do 42 percent of those “somewhat worried.” In contrast, 57 percent of those “not very worried” plan to vote in person along with 71 percent of those “not worried at all.” While worry about coronavirus is most common among Democrats, these two things are both independently correlated with plans to avoid in-person voting.