by Karl Kurtz
In December I posted "Increasing Voter Turnout" and "Increasing Voter Turnout II" based on a presentation that I made to NCSL's Redistricting and Elections Committee on what, if anything, legislatures can do through election laws to increase turnout. Last Friday in Washington, D.C., that same committee heard more on "Convenience Voting: Is it the Key to Higher Turnout?" from John Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute and Doug Chapin of electionline.org.
I was pleased that these two experts confirmed my conclusion from reading the literature that research has shown that absentee and early voting has little or no effect on voter turnout. "It just moves voters around without adding to their number," said Fortier. Election day registration, however, generates a 3-4 percent increase in voter turnout.
The session was lively and interesting in part because the audience of legislators and staff was very knowledgeable about the subject. Here are a few tidbits that came out of the discussion:
- Fortier commented that, like it or not, early voting is here to stay. Purists (like me) may decry it because it eliminates the notion of a national civic convocation of the American people on election day, but the fact is that voters like the convenience of it. He predicts that 30 percent of voters nationwide in 2008 will cast their ballots before election day. Download absentee_and_early_voting_2004.pdf is his state by state report on levels of absentee and early voting in the 2004 presidential election from his book, Absentee and Early Voting.
- Iowa became the 8th state to enact election day registration this year on the heels of last year's passage in Montana. (See "Increasing Voter Turnout" for the history of this measure in other states.) Is this a mini-groundswell in the direction of more states adopting election day registration? Maybe yes, maybe no. There are still plenty of people who believe that it leads to voter fraud and manipulation.
Read about Minnesota's legislation to automatically register voters below the jump.
- Minnesota's new Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, is promoting a version of universal voter registration, which would make the state government responsible for automatically registering all eligible citizens who apply for a drivers' license or identification card. A Minnesotan in the audience reported that both the house and the senate have passed legislation to implement Ritchie's proposal as part of the omnibus appropriations bill. However, he said that the governor was likely to veto the bill for reasons unrelated to universal voter registration.
- Doug Chapin talked about how we usually look at convenience voting (early and absentee voting) as a benefit to voters but that these measures are increasingly viewed (and supported) by election administrators as a way of reducing their costs and increasing efficiency. He said that candidates and campaign consultants also like convenience voting because most early voters are strong partisans who have their minds made up and don't feel the need to wait until election day to make up their minds. With early voting, he argues, the candidates don't have to spend as much money to get these supporters to the polls, and they can concentrate their funds and appeals on undecided voters who are more likely to wait until election day to vote.
- To which redistricting expert Kim Brace of Election Data Services commented that convenience voting may be attractive to voters and election administrators, but it is a real problem for redistricting geeks. The problem is that county election administrators typically report early and absentee votes on a county-wide basis and don't allocate them to precincts. Redistricters want to know the exact number of ballots cast in each precinct.
[Photo by Vaguely Artistic, courtesy of Flickr.]