Electoral Laws and Turnout: 1972-2008

31 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2009 Last revised: 22 Nov 2009

See all articles by Jan E. Leighley

Jan E. Leighley

University of Arizona - Department of Political Science

Jonathan Nagler

NYU - Wilf Family Department of Politics

Date Written: November 20, 2009


In this paper we examine the impact of electoral laws on overall turnout, and class bias in the electorate. Using turnout in each state in each year we use cross sectional time series analysis to estimate the impact of electoral reforms on turnout, with particular attention to the discriminatory impact of legal changes on persons at different segments of the income distribution. This gives us much more powerful estimates of these effects than were previously available. We do not suffer from the problems of cross-sectional analyses which rely on the assumption that the choice of electoral regime is independent of the likelihood of voting. And by using all presidential elections from 1972 thru 2008 we have much more statistical power than has been provided by previous analyses simply looking at difference of means tests across two elections. We consider the impact of: the number of days prior to election day that registration closes; the availability of election day registration; the availability of no-excuse early voting, and the availability of no-fault absentee voting. We show the net effects of these reforms on the probability of individuals voting, and we calculate the effect on at-risk votes and show that more poorly educated voters are not necessarily those more likely to take advantage of electoral reforms.

Keywords: turnout, early voting, election day registration, closing

JEL Classification: c33

Suggested Citation

Leighley, Jan E. and Nagler, Jonathan, Electoral Laws and Turnout: 1972-2008 (November 20, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1443556 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1443556

Jan E. Leighley

University of Arizona - Department of Political Science ( email )

315 Social Sciences Building
P.O. Box 210027
Tucson, AZ 85721-0027
United States
520-621-7600 (Phone)

Jonathan Nagler (Contact Author)

NYU - Wilf Family Department of Politics ( email )

Dept of Politics - 2nd floor
19 W. 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

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