What price convenience? Another confirmation that the Holy Grail of voting is not found in conventional wisdom

To listen to elected officials and many activists, the Holy Grail of Elections, would seem to be Turnout. Given the emphasis you would think that almost nothing else matters: Integrity, candidate access, campaign finance, media bias, or costs – when focusing on turnout, it seems everything else is forgotten.

We posted a news item from Ohio, earlier in the week from the the Columbus Dispatch: Early voting hasn’t boosted Ohio turnout <read>

Early voting has not led to more voting in Ohio, at least not in terms of total votes cast.
A Dispatch analysis of the vote totals from the past three presidential elections in the state shows that overall turnout in the 2012 race, when Ohioans arguably had the most opportunities in state history to vote early, was lower than in the 2004 election, when there was virtually no early voting in Ohio.
Turnout in 2008, the first presidential race in which Ohioans had no-fault absentee voting and also the first time an African-American was on the ballot, was about 1 percent higher than in 2004.
“People who vote early are people who are typically going to vote anyway,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “So, early voting hasn’t really succeeded in turning out more people to vote. We’ve made it a lot easier to vote, but on the other hand, some people are very discouraged about politics and might not care how easy it is to vote.”

This November voters in Connecticut will vote on a Constitutional Amendment to let the General Assembly to chose early voting methods, if any, for Connecticut. Conventional wisdom is that early voting will significantly increase turnout, wrong! That ignores the evidence. Proponents will tell us that there is almost no absentee voting fraud, wrong! that ignores the evidence.

We posted the evidence almost years ago: Researchers: Early Voting alone DECREASES turnout <read>

States have aggressively expanded the use of early voting, allowing people to submit their ballots before Election Day in person, by mail and in voting centers set up in shopping malls and other public places. More than 30 percent of votes cast in the 2008 presidential race arrived before Election Day itself, double the amount in 2000. In 10 states, more than half of all votes were cast early, with some coming in more than a month before the election. Election Day as we know it is quickly becoming an endangered species…

But a thorough look at the data shows that the opposite is true: early voting depresses turnout by several percentage points…Controlling for all of the other factors thought to shape voter participation, our model showed that the availability of early voting reduced turnout in the typical county by three percentage points…

Even with all of the added convenience and easier opportunities to cast ballots, turnout not only doesn’t increase with early voting, it actually falls. How can this be? The answer lies in the nature of voter registration laws, and the impact of early voting on mobilization efforts conducted by parties and other groups on Election Day.

That was just one, will conducted study. Here in Connecticut, Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill created an Election Performance Task Force. Election administration expert Doug Chapin summarized his review of available studies, covered here: Elections Performance Task Force: Technology Fair and Doug Chapin <read>

  • Early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and voting centers are strong trends. They can provide voter convenience. They can save money or add to costs. Data does not support significant changes in participation.
  • Once you start early voting, taking it away can have an impact, once people are accustomed to it. (As taking away local polling place voting may also have a similar impact)
    Survey voters to determine their levels of satisfaction and confidence in the process.
  • Do not expect increases in participation based on changes or reforms in election administration. Satisfaction and convenience can be increased but not participation.

Thus the Ohio research tends to confirm the other studies. (We say “tends to confirm”. It is not as thorough a study as the early ones, since it covers whole statewide elections and is not a thorough comparison between matched districts in states with and without early voting – there are a lot of factors which affect turnout, so just comparing elections in a single state cannot attribute differences to any one factor.

Plus we highlight many instances of votING fraud after almost every election via absentee voting, in Connecticut and across the country <here>

Here is the bottom line:

  • Early Voting (unlimited absentee voting or in-person early voting) does not increase turn out. Alone it decreases turnout.
  • Election Day Registration increases turnout (Except perhaps in Connecticut, where we have implemented in a much less convenient way than in states where it has proven effective)
  • When Early Voting is combined with Election Day Registrati0n (maybe not in Connecticut) turnout is not harmed or helped by Early Voting.
  • In-person Early Voting would be expensive or impossible in Connecticut, given our New England style town by town election administration and jurisdictions. It might be done expensively, and in a way biased against some populations.
  • Fraud has been demonstrated in absentee voting. In Connecticut with excuse absentee voting, it occurs frequently.
  • It does increase convenience.

When you vote in November, consider:  What price convenience? What cost convenience? What individual effort is Democracy worth?


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