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The impact of legal constraints on voter registration, turnout, and the composition of the American electorate

Abstract

Research on the effects of restrictive voter registration laws has been largely passé for nearly a decade, apparently due to the widespread acceptance of Wolfinger and Rosenstone's (1980) study of voter turnout. Wolfinger and Rosenstone's research indicates that fully liberalized registration laws would produce a larger voting population, which would differ only marginally in its composition from the existing electorate. But their analysis only addresses turnout, not registration itself, and is based on a single sample of the American electorate, 1972. This paper focuses on the impact of restrictive laws on registration and turnout in presidential and nonpresidential election years during the period 1972–1982, relying on data from both the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Surveys and the National Election Studies. The results of the analyses do mark important points of difference from Wolfinger and Rosenstone's findings. Ultimately, however, there is no escaping their conclusion that the implications of liberalized voter registration laws on the composition of the electorate would be relatively minor.

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Mitchell, G.E., Wlezien, C. The impact of legal constraints on voter registration, turnout, and the composition of the American electorate. Polit Behav 17, 179–202 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01498813

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Keywords

  • Single Sample
  • Census Bureau
  • Current Population
  • Population Survey
  • Current Population Survey