At Your Convenience: New Perspectives on Early Voting in the United States
Fullmer, Elliott Byron
Early voting has greatly expanded in the U.S. over the past two decades. Nearly two-thirds of states now allow any registered voter to cast a ballot in the days and weeks before Election Day. In 2008, nearly one-third of voters -- about forty-million citizens -- did so across the U.S. This project relies on multiple methodologies to probe the implications of this notable (and rapid) change in American elections.First, this dissertation documents the birth and development of early voting laws, utilizing state legislative archives, local media accounts, and conversations with county elections officials to identify how and why these policies emerged over the course of two decades. New data, theories, and approaches are then utilized to assess whether early voting increases voter turnout, one of its central goals. Reformers have argued that early voting lowers participation costs, which in turn should lead to more citizens choosing to cast ballots. While others have explored this question, the existing literature fails to account for important differences in early voting implementation across states and counties. Ultimately, the simple adoption of early voting is not found to produce higher turnout, though offering ample early voting sites (at the county-level) is associated with positive and significant effects on participation.This project delves deeper than the current literature to assess which segments of the population are taking advantage of early voting. Using Census Population Survey (CPS) data, it explores if -- and under what circumstances -- early voting may attract groups with historically low turnout rates. When counties offer early voting with abundant sites, participation among historically low-turnout demographics indeed increases. This offers important evidence that early voting is making participation easier for those who often abstain given the burdens of voting on Election Day.Finally, it is well-documented that public policy changes produce unintended consequences. Several externalities of early voting laws, largely ignored by researchers, are explored. These include increased racial disparities regarding voting access, greater levels of roll-off in down-ballot races, and heightened information asymmetry among voters in a given election.
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