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Going Postal: How All-Mail Elections Influence Turnout

Abstract

We examine the question of whether or not reducing the costs of voting by conducting elections entirely through the mail rather than at the traditional polling place increases participation. Using election data from Oregon, we examine whether or not elections conducted through the mail increase turnout in both local and statewide elections. Using precinct-level data merged with census data we also examine how postal voting may alter the composition of the electorate. We find that, while all-mail elections tend to produce higher turnout, the most significant increases occur in low stimulus elections, such as local elections or primaries where turnout is usually low. The increase in turnout, however, is not uniform across demographic groups. Voting only by mail is likely to increase turnout among those who are already predisposed to vote, such as those with higher socioeconomic status. Like other administrative reforms designed to make voting easier, postal voting has the potential to increase turnout. However, the expanded pool of voters will be limited most likely to those already inclined to vote but find it inconvenient to go to the polling place. This conclusion is consistent with the growing body of research that suggests that relaxing administrative requirements is not likely to be the panacea for low turnout among the disenfranchised.

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Karp, J.A., Banducci, S.A. Going Postal: How All-Mail Elections Influence Turnout. Political Behavior 22, 223–239 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026662130163

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  • early voting
  • elections
  • Oregon
  • turnout
  • vote by mail