Voter Turnout and Equity

As we mentioned, there have been no quick and simple solutions to voter turnout problems. Still, there have been some successes around the country over the last few decades. Both Election Day registration and the new policy formulations of early voting seem to have both increased turnout and the equity of those who vote in the average federal election.

For decades, however, some of the early formulations of early voting had been decreasing over all turnout and the percentages of low-income and minorities who were voting (see Burden et al. 2015 and McDonald et al. 2016). These earlier voting programs typically were limited to earlier in-person voting at only two or three times during the week. No one anticipated that this could decrease turnout and voter equity. The possible reasons are complicated and numerous, but two of those offered are as follows. First, early voting caused voting to be spread out over a longer of period of time, and this diluted the importance, excitement, and the build up to election-day as an event that compelled people to act. Second, it was disproportionately the Whiter, higher income voters who took advantage of early voting.

Later policy formulations seem to have solved these problems.  Some of the new early voting programs offer an expanded number of days where early voting is offered and that includes weekend earlier voting.

Also, the overall evidence is that the increased registration rates from Motor Voter Registration have not correlated (or have been weakly correlated) with more people voting  in the average Federal election (Burke and Murphy 2017).

Together we can find real solutions, but it will take a willingness to question existing assumptions and a careful, objective analysis before we scale up reforms for nationwide use. Automatic Voter Registration is new policy idea that has potential. However, history has taught us that it is impossible to predict how new policy innovations will perform until they are implemented in more than a few states and election years, and data is carefully collected and analyzed.