Perhaps on the nerdy side, but worth sharing – a new research paper called “The Unanticipated Consequences of Election Reform” shows that when states implement early voting, on its own, it decreases turnout. Election Day Registration, meanwhile, increases turnout.

From the abstract:

“It seems logical that making voting more convenient – through relaxed registration rules, registration on election day, voting prior to election day, or expanded absentee voting – will encourage more people to cast ballots. We challenge this notion, and show that the most popular reform – early voting – actually decreases turnout when implemented by itself… On its own, EDR increases turnout and early voting decreases it.”

The authors go on to theorize why:

“Traditional election day is a social event as well as a political one. For at least some voters, what gets them to the polls isthe stimulation of the day’s news, observation of activities at polling places, and conversations with friends and neighbors. Local news coverage, discussions with peers, and election day activities all help spur turnout by providing information about candidates and the process of voting, introducing some normative pressure to vote, and enhancing the social benefits of taking part in a collective enterprise. When these activities are diluted, or at least redistributed, so is the stimulating effect, particularly for the peripheral voter.”

One big mitigating factor – the study focused only on 2004 and 2008 Presidential campaigns, not on 2012 and not on mid-terms or other lower-salience elections. Other data (Gronke and Miller, 2012; Kousser and Mulllin, 2007) have shown that early voting, in particular vote-by-mail, may have a positive increase in off-cycle elections, even if it decreases participation in high-profile general elections. In any case, early voting – which is the most popular voting reform in many states – sure doesn’t seem like a slam dunk.

Very useful as we think about where to put election reform energy.

posted in Election Reform