Allowing voters to show up and cast ballots ahead of Election Day appears to actually reduce participation, but letting them vote by mail or to show up and register on Election Day boosts turnout, the government’s chief research agency said in a new report last week. The surprising findings by the Government Accountability Office contradict the conventional wisdom in a number of states, which are moving to expand so-called early voting, believing it makes it easier for those who are busy on Election Day to take part in the political process anyway. But the findings confirm the experiments of states such as Colorado, where voting by mail has become the standard. Still, the changes affect only the margins, and the main factors in predicting voter turnout are voters’ demographics and whether an election is seen as interesting, GAO analysts said.
“Although states and local election jurisdictions have implemented policies that seek to make voting more convenient, and thus less costly to voters, broad academic research on voter turnout has concluded that individual differences among citizens — such as age and political interest — and the competitiveness of elections are more strongly and consistently associated with the decision to vote than interventions that seek to increase convenience,” the analysts concluded.
They divided states’ experiments into three categories: providing more information, trying to streamline voter registration and opening a broader window for actually voting.
Sending text messages to voters did boost turnout, while the evidence for other options, such as emails or print mailings, was inconclusive. But there were clear winners on the registration side, with Election Day registration seemingly showing the strongest results. And when it came to actual voting day practices, allowing absentee ballots or voting by mail were deemed successful at boosting participation.