is ostensibly designed to make casting a ballot easier and
more convenient. But does it actually decrease overall voter turnout?
According to new research by University of Wisconsin-Madison political
science professors Barry Burden and Kenneth Mayer, the answer is yes.
their findings (based on statistical analysis of the 2008 election) and
suggested changes to the process in Sunday's New York Times:
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.
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. ...
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...With significant early voting, Election Day can become a
kind of afterthought, simply the last day of a drawn-out slog.
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...By removing barriers that require potential voters to
register weeks before a campaign reaches its height, less-engaged
citizens can enter the voting process late — and political campaigns can
respond by maintaining the intensity of their efforts through Election
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