Convenience Voting and Turnout: Reassessing the Effects of Election Reforms

Michael P. McDonald, Enrijeta Shino, & Daniel A. Smith

University of Florida

Abstract

Democratic systems are generally considered to function best when the electorate is a reflection of the citizenry. With that goal in mind, liberal policymakers often advocate electoral reforms that they expect will expand the electorate so that those on the periphery will be drawn in to participate in democratic governance. A recent award-winning article by Burden et al. (2014) finds that the electoral reform of “early voting” (absentee and early in-­person) fails to increase a state’s voter turnout. They find that early voting, when implemented alone and not accompanied by Election Day or Same­ Day registration, led to lower voter turnout in the 2004 and 2008 general elections. After replicating and extending their analysis, we reassess the issue of these seemingly unintended consequences bringing to bear new data and methods. Following Hur and Achen (2013), we re­weight Current Population Survey (CPS) data on state-level voter turnout to account for non­response and vote over­report bias encountered in these survey data, and expand our analysis to include the 2008 and 2012 General Elections. We also offer corrected and more refined measures of convenience voting based on states’ predisposition to facilitate absentee voting for eligible voters, relying on the early in-person (EIP) and absentee mail voting rules that states have implemented, and using data from the 2008 and 2012 CPS. Preliminary results show that “early voting” reforms – especially the possibility of weekend voting – do not exhibit the unintended consequence of depressing voter turnout.

Prepared for the “New Research on Election Administration and Reform” Conference at MIT, June 8, 2015.