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Does Early Voting Really Improve Voter Turnout The View from the Academy


Fund political parties and not just candidate organizations ... Early voting allows parties to 'harvest core voters' What we don't know yet ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Does Early Voting Really Improve Voter Turnout The View from the Academy

Does Early Voting Really Improve Voter
Turnout?The View from the Academy
  • Paul Gronke, Director
  • Eva Galanes-Rosenbaum, Research Director
  • Early Voting Information Center
  • July 16, 2007
  • Prepared for the National Association of
    Secretary of States Summer Meeting, Portland OR

Who am I?
  • Professor of Political Science at Reed College
    and Director of the Early Voting Information
  • Primary fields of research are voting behavior,
    public opinion, survey administration and
  • Recent projects
  • Carter/Baker Commission report on Voting by Mail
  • 2006 Carnegie Corporation project on 2004
    Election Day Survey
  • 2007 EAC Contract on 2006 Election Administration
  • Where you can find out more about me
  • Email
  • Web http//, http//
  • Blog http//

Agenda for today
  • Theories of voting and the early voter
  • Voting as A Cost/Benefit decision Because EV
    decreases cost, turnout should increase
  • Voting as Consumption Because voting is a
    marginal decision, EV should have small effects
    (positive and negative) on turnout
  • Voting and the Social Context If states make it
    easier for parties, candidates, and other
    organizations to identify early voters, turnout
    should increase
  • Empirical studies of turnout and early voting
  • How scholars and policymakers can work together

State of the World Early Voting is coming and
you cant stop it
6 states cast ballots before Iowa Caucus
12 states cast ballots before New Hampshire
Major share of delegates at stake in early voting
Thanks to
Source Fitzgerald 2005
Voting as a Cost-Benefit Decision
  • Why should anyone vote at all?
  • Scholars often conceptualize voting as a
    cost-benefit calculation
  • Vote if C lt pB
  • The probability that a citizens vote will make a
    difference (p) multiplied by the perceived
    benefit from voting (pB) must be greater than the
    cost of voting (C) in order for a citizen to
  • Prediction rational citizens should not vote and
    in equilibrium, turnout should be zero

How to increase turnout if you believe the
Cost-Benefit Model
  • The p (probability that one vote will make a
    difference) is virtually nil thus
  • Efforts to increase turnout work on B or C
  • B most GOTV efforts for candidates and policy
    campaigns work here, trying to make potential
    voters feel that the benefit gained from voting
    is large (or that the cost of not turning out
    will be severe)
  • C a few campaigns, and most civil servants
    operate here, trying to lower the costs of voting
    by making polls easier to access, making
    information accessible, etc.
  • Early Voting may increase turnout by lowering the
    costs of voting.

Voting as consumption
  • Many political scientists modify the classic
    cost-benefit model of turnout
  • Vote if C lt pB D
  • D has been variously described as civic duty or
    value of democracy.
  • Consumption because you enjoy the benefit
    whether or not your candidate wins. You
    consume voting.
  • Prediction turnout should equilibrate at some
    level greater than zero, and vary according to
    the consumptive value of the election.

How to increase turnout if you believe the
consumption model
  • Manipulate D
  • Encourage a sense of civic duty
  • Describe voting as a way to express your voice
    (Rock the Vote), not to win or lose for policy
  • Structure voting so as to encourage community
    activity and civic rituals
  • Early voting
  • Should have no impact, because small changes on
    the cost side wont translate into big changes on
    the turnout side
  • Should have a negative impact because it destroys
    old civic rituals
  • Should have a positive impact because it creates
    a new civic ritual (voting at the kitchen
  • Regardless, any effects are likely to be small.

Voting and the Social Context
  • Criticism of homo economicus. What about homo
    societushumans embedded in a social context?
  • Institutions play a role by getting people out to
  • Institutions play a role by teaching skills and
    providing resources needed to help navigate
    political waters
  • Evidence
  • Mobilization can overcome barriers to voting
  • Citizens with greater social connections vote
    more frequently
  • Church attendance
  • Members of civic organizations
  • Volunteerism

How to increase turnout if you believe in
  • Encourage the health of American civic life
  • Fund political parties and not just candidate
  • Encourage volunteerism and civic engagement no
    more bowling alone
  • Early voting
  • May have a positive impact if states and
    jurisdictions make permanent absentee lists and
    early voting returnseasily and cheaply available
  • Allows civic organizations to target mobilization
  • Promotes cost efficiency among candidates and
    party organizations
  • May level the campaign playing field and lower
    campaign spending

VBM and Turnout Empirical Evidence
  • Academic verdict on VBMs effect
  • Small increase in turnout
  • EVIC estimates are that voting by mail has
    increased turnout in Presidential elections
    approximately 5
  • One California estimated a decrease of 2.6
  • VBM does not expand the electorate
  • Tends to draw in regular voters, does not attract
    new voters
  • What we dont know yet
  • Changing landscape of voting by mail
  • Concerns about novelty effect and other
    special circumstances
  • Effects likely vary in higher and lower profile

Other Modes and Turnout
  • Liberalized absentee voting
  • EVIC compared primary types of non-precinct place
    voting since 1960, in Federal elections, and
    found no impact (other than VBM)
  • Other studies have found consistently positive
    but small (less than 3) and often statistically
  • In Person Early Voting and Voting Centers
  • No measurable impact on turnout
  • Early voting allows parties to harvest core
  • What we dont know yet
  • Based primarily on studies in Texas and Colorado
  • Widespread party mobilization efforts directed at
    early voters

Who votes early? The Early Electorate
  • Resource Rich voters (better educated, higher
  • Committed voters (voters with strong ideological
    leanings and partisan ties, older voters?)
  • Voters who are inconvenienced by traditional
    precinct place voting (e.g. voters facing longer
    commutes, older voters?)
  • Early voting does not expand the electorate and
    reinforces existing biases in American politics
  • Early voting methods increase voter turnout on
    average (across many different types of
    elections), primarily by making it easier for
    current voters to continue to participate, rather
    than by mobilizing nonvoters into the electorate.
  • Very consistent with the theoretical

Looking to the future
  • Electoral reforms that make voting more
    convenient but may exacerbate pre-existing biases
  • Retention is easy to fix. Likely voters1 who
    dont participate already are those who respond
    best to lower physical coststheyre already
    engaged, wealthy, educated, or habitual voters
  • Expanding the electorate is hard.
  • Turning unlikely voters into likely voters
    involves much more than administrative changes
  • 1. Likely voters are those who share
    characteristics with habitual voters older,
    wealthier, politically and socially engaged,
    educated, etc. The expectation that a member of
    these groups will turn out to vote is higher than
    for others.

How EV research can help you
  • Study EV as a way to improve election
  • Give poll workers extra time to learn in a
    hands-on environment
  • Allow many problems to be caught and dealt with
    before the huge crowds of Election Day
  • Give voters the option of returning later if
    something isnt working or if access is a
  • Study EV as a way to increase turnout and expand
    the electorate
  • Experimental studies of different methods of
    voter outreach and voter assistance
  • Different methods for different citizens
  • Study EV across jurisdictions to establish best

How you can help research
  • Tracking the number of early votes in an election
    is a source of considerable frustration
  • States such as Texas, Oregon, Florida make data
    readily available, in real-time and permanently
  • Other states dont make these numbers available
  • Often cant produce the data when directly
  • Many dont track EV at the state level (must go
    to each county)
  • Inconsistent definitions
  • Quick collection and analysis of national EV
    rates is currently impossible
  • Take full advantage of statewide voter
    registration systems and link to voter history