The good and the bad of Early Voting

So, as my current colleague and also friend from grad school, Bill Boettcher observed today… when our fellow grad school friend, Barry Burden, gets Op-Eds, he gets them in the Times, when I get Op-Eds I get then in the Raleigh N&O.  Very true.  At least I can claim I knew Barry back when.  Anyway, he’s got a really nice Op-Ed today about the academic findings on early voting.  Short version: early voting actually makes a tiny hit on voter turnout unless it is also coupled with Election Day Registration (which is actually what we do right here in NC).  Here’s Barry:

In most states, registration and voting take place in two separate steps. A voter must first register, sometimes a month before the election, and then return another time to cast a ballot. Early voting by itself does not eliminate this two-step requirement. For voters who missed their registration deadline, the convenience of early voting is irrelevant.

Early voting also dilutes the intensity of Election Day. When a large share of votes is cast well in advance of the first Tuesday in November, campaigns begin to scale back their late efforts. The parties run fewer ads and shift workers to more competitive states. Get-out-the-vote efforts in particular become much less efficient when so many people have already voted.

When Election Day is merely the end of a long voting period, it lacks the sort of civic stimulation that used to be provided by local news media coverage and discussion around the water cooler. Fewer co-workers will be sporting “I voted” stickers on their lapels on Election Day. Studies have shown that these informal interactions have a strong effect on turnout, as they generate social pressure. With significant early voting, Election Day can become a kind of afterthought, simply the last day of a drawn-out slog.

Fortunately, there is a way to improve turnout and keep the convenience of early voting. Our research shows that when early voting is combined with same-day registration — that is, you can register to vote and cast an early ballot on the same day — the depressive effect of early voting disappears. North Carolina and Vermont, two otherwise very different states that combined early voting with same-day registration, had turnout levels in 2008 that were much higher than the overall national figure of 58 percent of the voting-age population. Turnouts in Vermont and North Carolina were, respectively, 63 percent and 64 percent. Allowing Election-Day registration, in which voters can register at the polling place, has the same effect. Our models show that the simple presence of Election-Day registration in states like Minnesota and New Hampshire increases turnout by more than six points.

I’ve got to say, I’m proud of NC for being in the forefront of good government policy like this.  Hopefully other states will catch on (that’s actually how federalism is supposed to work– states try things out and adopt the best practices from other states).



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The good and the bad of Early Voting

  1. Pingback: Early Voting – Demise of a Civic Ritual « Law Monkey

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