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Mail-In Voting Is Critical to Young Asian Americans’ Voter Participation

Efforts to restrict voting by mail or dropping off a ballot may undermine the engagement of a rising electoral force.

Author: Peter de GuzmanAssociate Researcher
Contributors: Alberto Medina, Sara Suzuki, Kelly Siegel-Stechler


The 2020 election saw an unprecedented increase in the use of vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states expanded access to opportunities to vote by mail, and the rate of mail ballot usage more than doubled in 2020 compared to the 2016 presidential election. 

That high usage may continue in 2022, especially among certain groups of voters. In this analysis, we focus on the use of mail-in voting by young Asian Americans, whose voter participation has increased substantially in recent election cycles. Using our own surveys, as well as the data from the 2020 Survey on the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) and from APIAVote, we offer insights on young Asian Americans’ preference for mail-in voting, the different forms of submitting their ballot they prefer (i.e. mailing their ballot vs. using a ballot drop box), and how states’ efforts to expand or restrict mail-in voting could shape their electoral participation this November. We find:

  • Two-thirds of young Asian Americans voted by mail in 2020, and approximately six in ten say they plan to do so again in 2022
  • Young Asian Americans were more likely than their same-age peers of other racial/ethnic groups to cite convenience as their main reason for voting by mail
  • While states like California or Nevada moving to all-mail elections may support Asian youth’s electoral participation, new restrictive laws in states like Georgia and Wisconsin could hurt these voters. 

Asian Youth Voted by Mail at a High Rate in 2020 and Plan To Do So Again

In the lead up to the November 2020 general election, 12 states temporarily expanded eligibility to mail voting, discarding the requirement for voters to provide an excuse to use a mail ballot. In total, 12 states mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, and 11 states mailed ballots to all registered voters for the November 2020 election. States also expanded the ballot return options for voters who took advantage of the ability to vote by mail. In 2020, 39 states and Washington, D.C., allowed voters to use ballot drop boxes—although there were differences in the implementation of ballot drop box systems by state and within individual states.

Asian Americans took advantage of the flexibility provided by mail ballots. A Pew Research Center post-election survey of Asian Americans conducted in November 2020 found that 67% of Asian Americans (of all ages) reported voting by absentee or mail-in ballot. Other surveys found similar rates of mail ballot usage among younger people: 66% of Asian Americans ages 18-34 voted absentee or by mail according to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey and 67% of Asian Americans ages 18-29 used mail ballots according to the CIRCLE 2020 post-election survey of young people, by far the highest rate of mail-in voting of any racial/ethnic group of youth.

Research suggests that many Asian Americans continue to favor mail-in voting and plan to use it again this year. A recent survey conducted by APIAVote and AAPI Data found that 51% of Asian Americans reported that they would prefer to cast their ballot by mail or ballot drop-off in the 2022 midterm elections. This differed slightly by age group: just over half of Asian Americans ages 18-34 (53%) said they would prefer to vote by mail or ballot drop-off this fall, compared to 48% of Asian Americans over the age of 34.

Preferences, Process, and Motivations of Asian Youth for Voting By Mail

The 2020 Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) provides another data source to analyze younger Asian Americans’ use of mail-in voting. According to that survey, 61% of Asian Americans ages 18-34 who voted or attempted to vote in the 2020 November elections reported mailing or dropping off their ballot, while 26% said that they voted in-person on Election Day and 13% reported that they voted in person before Election Day. 

The familiarity of young Asian Americans with mail voting may be due in part to their geographic distribution in the United States. Asian Americans are concentrated in the “West” Census region, which includes states like Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, and California that use mail voting as the default method of casting a ballot. According to the November 2020 Census Current Population Survey, approximately 43% of Asian Americans (including Asian Americans who selected multiple races) ages 18-34 live in the West. 

Findings from the 2020 Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) suggest that Asian American youth appreciate the availability and flexibility of mail-in voting. Around four in ten (43%) said they voted by mail in 2020 because it was more convenient, and an additional 35% cited their worries about the COVID-19 virus.

Insights from Young Asian Voters

One young Asian American voter contacted by APIAVote in Arizona stated: “I like voting by mail because it offers more flexibility with my schedule as a student and a part-time server.”

Another young voter from California shared that “[voting by mail] was such a seamless way to make sure that my voice was heard and I didn’t have to face the obstacles that could appear in trying to vote in person. I plan to vote by mail in this upcoming election as well since it’s significantly more accessible and I can still provide my input!”

Younger Asian Americans were more likely to cite “convenience” as a reason than their same-age peers of other racial/ethnic groups: 30% of young Black and Latino respondents and 27% of young white respondents said that was their main reason for voting by mail. These differences were statistically significant. 

According to the SPAE data, over half (55%) of young Asian Americans (ages 18-34) who voted by mail said they mailed back their ballot, while 42% said they dropped their ballot off at an official election location. As shown above, CIRCLE’s own 2020 survey of youth ages 18-29 revealed higher usage of ballot drop off among young Asian Americans compared to other groups of youth.

When we examine differences in how Asian Americans returned mail ballots by age, we find that almost two-thirds (62%) of Asian Americans over 34 mailed their ballot back instead of dropping it off. 

In keeping with the concern about convenience, among youth who voted by dropping off their ballot, the proximity of a ballot drop-off location to their home was the leading reason for Asian American voters of all ages—but especially for the youngest voters. Nearly two in three (62%) young Asian Americans and 40% of Asian Americans over 34 reported that they decided to drop their ballot off at a location because it was close to their home. 

Asian Americans dropped off their mail ballots at a variety of locations, with noticeable differences by age. Approximately three in ten (29%) young Asian Americans who returned their own ballot reported that they dropped their ballot off at a government office (excluding police/fire stations and libraries), and 21% said they used a drop box on the street or sidewalk. 

Asian Americans of all ages, including Asian youth, also trust the mail-in voting process. Nearly two in three (64%) Asian Americans over 34 and over half (54%) of Asian Americans ages 18-34 years old said they were “very confident” that there are sufficient safeguards to limit mail ballot fraud. Nearly six in ten (59%) young Asian Americans who voted by mail in 2020 said they were very likely to vote by mail in most future elections. Laws that restrict access to mail voting could threaten Asian Americans’ confidence and likelihood to use their preferred voting method. 

Younger Asian Americans also waited longer to mail or return their ballot than older Asian Americans, who reported returning their ballots early at a higher rate than young Asian Americans. Less than half (47%) of Asian Americans ages 18-34 said they returned their ballot more than a week before Election Day. That could have implications for youth participation if some states restrict the time periods for receiving mail-in ballots.

About Our Partnership: APIAVote

This analysis includes data from Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), a leading nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to engaging, educating, and empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. We're grateful to APIAVote for their work, for helping us incorporate the voices of AAPI youth, and for sharing this research on the importance of vote by mail to Asian American youth.

Vote by Mail Has Expanded in Some States, Been Restricted In Others

A recent state-by-state scan of electoral policies conducted by CIRCLE found that access to mail-in voting has expanded in some states and will likely be a key part of the electoral process this year. 

Eight states (CA, CO, HI, NV, OR, UT, VT, WA) and Washington, D.C., will conduct all-mail elections in 2022, with California, Nevada, and Vermont codifying all-mail elections into state law for the first time after 2020. According to the November 2020 Census Current Population Survey, 42% of Asian Americans (including Asian Americans who selected multiple races) live in a state (or in D.C.)  that will conduct all-mail elections in 2022.

In addition, thirty-six states (including those eight states above and Washington, D.C.) allow for registered voters to vote by mail without providing an excuse, and 19 states give voters more time to request a mail ballot by having mail ballot request deadlines within seven days of the general elections. 

In 2020, 39 states and D.C. provided ballot drop boxes in one or more locations. However, since that election, several states have taken steps to eliminate ballot drop boxes or restrict access to drop-off locations. The Brennan Center has tracked more than 30 such bills in 11 states moving through state legislatures at the time of writing, and some restrictions have already gone into effect.

In July 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the use of absentee ballot drop boxes is illegal under state law, likely precluding them from being used in the November 2022 general elections. SB 90 in Florida, currently under consideration by a federal appeals court, would eliminate secure vote-by-mail drop boxes in the state. 

Even in states that have not eliminated absentee ballot drop boxes, new restrictions have impacted their availability. SB 202 in Georgia has limited counties to one absentee ballot drop box per 100,000 registered voters, requiring that drop box locations be indoors at early vote locations and only available during early voting hours. In Fulton County, GA, a county where Asian Americans make up 8.7% of the population (above the national average), the number of available drop boxes has been reduced from 38 to 8.

This could have a serious impact on electoral outcomes in Georgia; an analysis by the voter data organization TargetSmart found that AAPI voting in 2020 increased by over 62,000 votes from 2016, and the number of Asian Americans who cast their ballot in Georgia exceeded the margin of victory in the presidential race in the state. Given young Asian Americans’ expressed preference for convenient ballot boxes close to their home, reductions in drop-off locations could negatively impact their voter participation at a time when they are a rising electoral force. 

Conclusion and Implications

In 2020, Asian American voter turnout increased and came closer to closing historic gaps between Asian American voter turnout and the voter turnout of Americans from other racial groups. Many Asian Americans took advantage of expanded access to mail voting and absentee ballot drop-off, and a majority of Asian Americans across age groups report that they are very likely to vote by mail in most future elections. 

In 2022, approximately half (51%) of Asian Americans report that they would prefer to cast their ballot by mail or ballot drop-off in this fall’s general elections. Across age groups, Asian Americans have expressed their enthusiastic adoption of mail voting, their belief in its security and their likelihood to vote by mail in future elections. Advocates should resist restrictive policies aimed at limiting access to mail voting and encourage the expansion of mail ballot drop boxes that are located in Asian American communities.