Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tolbert, Caroline J.
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Compared to most Western democracies, voter turnout in the United States is consistently lower. Individuals from disadvantaged groups such as the poor are also less likely to vote than more affluent citizens. To counteract these trends, American state governments since the 1970s have adopted election reform laws (early voting, no-excuse absentee or mail voting, and Same Day Registration [SDR] voting) to make voting easier for the citizen. Paradoxically, most research on election reform laws has found that these laws have a minimal effect on turnout, and do not reduce disparities between more and less advantaged voting groups. This study argues that past studies have not properly accounted for features of a state’s electoral system – combinations of voting reform laws, election administration, and history of turnout – that structure the impacts of these laws on turnout. The goal of this research is to re-evaluate the performance of these election reform laws by contextualizing the laws in a state’s electoral system.
This study makes several unique contributions to the literature on election reform laws. First, convenience voting laws and state election administration are reframed as components of the overall accessibility of a state’s electoral system. Using a policy feedback framework, this reframing recognizes how citizens, political campaigns, and accessible electoral systems shape turnout. The study then evaluates the effects of accessible electoral systems on overall turnout, and turnout among the poor. Additionally, this project analyzes how these laws structure the mobilization strategies of political campaigns. Finally, this research utilizes two large datasets containing millions of respondents from all fifty American states (Catalist and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study) with advanced statistical methods to assess the effects of these laws at the individual level in the 2008-2014 midterm and presidential elections. After controlling for the accessibility of state electoral systems, this research finds that convenience voting laws do increase turnout, encourage participation from the least likely voting groups, motivate campaigns to mobilize voters, and reduce turnout inequality.
Campaign, Convenience voting, Equality, Mobilization, Poverty, Turnout
xii, 229 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 216-229).
Copyright © 2017 Michael James Ritter
Ritter, Michael James. "Accessible electoral systems: state reform laws, election administration, and voter turnout." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2017.