How Americans cast their votes in the 2022 election

Eli McKown-DawsonSurvey Data Journalism Intern
November 16, 2022, 8:01 PM GMT+0

Early estimates indicate that voter turnout in the 2022 congressional election was high for a year without a presidential election, with more than 100 million Americans casting a ballot. A YouGov poll of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens conducted November 8-9, 2022 shows that the high turnout came despite a drop in mail voting.

While 46% of voters voted by mail in 2020, only 33% did so in 2022; 43% of voters voted in person on Election Day, while the remaining 25% voted early, in person. Most 2022 mail voters returned their ballot by mail, but about one-third returned it to a vote center or ballot dropbox. With another election with widespread mail voting, the share of voters who have ever voted by mail has increased. About half (53%) of early voters — but only 33% of Election Day voters — said they had ever voted by mail.

Partisan differences in vote mode have decreased since 2020. While Democrats were 29 percentage points more likely than Republicans to vote by mail in 2020, there was only a 9-percentage-point difference in 2022. Republicans (45%) remain more likely to vote in person on Election Day than Democrats (37%).

Mail voters

A majority of mail voting in the 2022 congressional election was done privately. Most mail voters (89%) completed their ballot alone, while only 11% filled it out with someone else. There were no significant party-based differences in this behavior.

Most Americans who voted by mail returned their mail ballot in the weeks leading up to Election Day. The most common return windows were one to seven days before Election Day (33%), eight to 14 days before (25%), and 15 to 30 days before (23%). Only 5% of 2022 mail voters returned their ballot more than 30 days before the election.

About one in 10 mail voters (9%) returned their ballot on Election Day, and another 1% did so after Election Day. Mail voters who dropped their ballot off at a dropbox or vote center were much more likely than those who sent their ballot through the mail to return their ballot on or after Election Day. Similarly, mail voters who used the postal service were more likely than those who used a dropbox to return their ballot two or three weeks before Election Day.

Just as most mail voters filled out their ballot alone, most also returned only their own ballot. When returning their ballot, just 15% of Americans who voted by mail in 2022 indicated that they returned at least one other mail ballot in addition to their own. Unlike ballot completion, there are party-based differences in returning others’ ballots. Democrats who voted by mail (21%) were more likely than Republicans (12%) and Independents (10%) to return someone else’s mail ballot.

In-person voters

Most Americans who voted in person in the 2022 congressional election had to travel 15 minutes or less to reach their polling place. Only 2% of voters traveled for more than an hour, with another 24% traveling between 16 minutes and one hour.

Higher-income Americans tended to travel farther than lower-income Americans to vote. While 18% of voters in families making more than $100,000 per year traveled more than 30 minutes to reach their polling place, only 5% of voters with family income under $50,000 per-year did the same. Meanwhile, voters with family income of $100,000 or more were less likely than voters with family income under $50,000 per year to travel less than five minutes (23% vs. 39%).

Most in-person voters in 2022 thought their polling place was easy to find: 70% “strongly agreed” that it was easy to find, while another 18% “somewhat agreed.” Only 6% either “somewhat” or “strongly” disagreed. Higher-income voters were less likely to think their polling place was easy to find. While 79% of in-person voters with family income under $50,000  strongly agreed that their polling place was easy to find, only 50% of voters with family income of at least $100,000 said the same.

Once in the polling place, most in-person voters did not have to wait long to cast their ballot: 34% reported no wait time in their polling place, while 22% said it was less than 5 minutes; 11% of voters waited in line for over 30 minutes, above than the maximum acceptable wait time set by the 2012 Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

Like with travel time, higher-income voters reported longer wait times than lower-income voters did. While 15% of voters with family income of $100,000 or more waited over 30 minutes to vote, only 7% of those with family income under $50,000 did the same.

When casting their ballot in the 2022 congressional election, 72% of in-person voters were asked to show some kind of identification beyond providing their name and address. Of voters asked for identification, 78% showed their driver’s license or a state-issued photo ID, 9% used their voter registration card, and 4% showed a document that contained their name and address. Other forms of identification such as military IDs (3%) gun licenses (2%), and passports (2%) were less common.

In-person voters in the South (61%) were more likely than those in other regions to use an electronic voting machine — as opposed to a paper ballot — to cast their vote in the 2022 congressional election. Half (50%) of voters in the West used a voting machine while 45% voted on a paper ballot. Most voters in the Midwest and Northeast used a paper ballot. Slightly over half (53%) of Midwest voters did so and 58% of voters in the Northeast did the same.

When voting in person, most voters thought the poll workers they encountered were helpful (82%). The same percentage of in-person voters (82%) thought their ballot privacy was protected when voting. There are no party-based differences in whether voters thought their poll worker was helpful or that their ballot privacy was protected.

About one-quarter of in-person voters (23%) thought their ballot was too long, while 49% did not think their ballot was too long. Democratic voters (34%) were more likely than Republican (19%) and Independent (14%) voters to think their ballot was too long.

Voting experience

Ballot completion in the 2022 congressional election varied. A majority of voters (57%) cast a vote in all contests on their ballot. Another 26% voted in “most” contests while 6% voted in about half of the contests; 5% of voters voted in only a single contest on their ballot.

Older voters were more likely to complete their ballot than younger voters were. Majorities of voters 65 and older (76%) and those aged 45-64 (72%) voted in all contests on their ballot. Meanwhile, 25% of voters aged 30-44 and 30% of voters under 30 did the same. Young voters were also more likely than older voters to vote for only one candidate on their ballot.

More-educated voters are also less likely to complete their ballot. While 44% of voters with a postgraduate degree voted in all contests on their ballot, 61% of voters with a high school degree or less did the same. More educated voters were more likely to vote for only one candidate on their ballot.

Overall, most voters in the 2022 congressional election reported having a positive voting experience: 44% said their experience was “excellent” and another 42% said it was “good.” Only 3% of voters said their experience was “poor.”

There were no significant party-based differences in voting experience. Democrats (89%) were just as likely as Republicans (88%) to say their experience was excellent or good, with Democrats slightly more likely to say excellent and Republicans more likely to say good. Independents were less likely to select either option (79%), and more likely to say their experience was “fair” (18%).

— Linley Sanders and Taylor Orth contributed to this article.

This poll was conducted on November 8 - 9, 2022, among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Adobe Stock (Halfpoint)