Legally Mandated Inconvenience: Does Driver's License Suspension Reduce Voter Turnout?

12 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 23 Sep 2009

See all articles by John McNulty

John McNulty

Binghamton University

Laura Jalovick Martin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Tansy Woan

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: 2009


The act of voting is the fundamental building block of a functioning democracy, a necessary if insufficient component in the exercise of popular self-rule. Schoolchildren are taught, starting before even kindergarten, that voting is a sacred duty, a treasured privilege, and a high honor; when older, they are often reminded that soldiers die in wars in order to protect and preserve our right to cast a ballot.

Yet, this process of socialization is clearly incomplete. Voter turnout is and shall always be far short of the theoretical ideal (if it is an ideal) of near perfection. Perhaps the most significant advance in solving the puzzle of why people don’t vote came over half a century ago when Anthony Downs (1955) demonstrated that abstention was actually the rational choice when confronted with the question to vote or not vote, from a pure cost-benefit perspective.

Nevertheless, some people do vote, and the discipline shifted from treating voter turnout as a puzzle – “Why don’t people vote like we expect them to?” – to a paradox – “Why do people vote despite the fact that they ‘shouldn’t?’” The answer is, people have myriad other motivations to vote besides just the vanishingly small possibility of casting the decisive vote: These include, just to name a few, a sense of duty, inculcated as discussed above; an expressive benefit, from consummating one’s support of a favored candidate; the actions of campaigns and mobilization organizations; a social benefit, from gathering with friends for a communal activity, or from being seen as a “good citizen”; any number of possible side benefits (discounts for consumer goods and the like); et cetera.

Suggested Citation

McNulty, John and Martin, Laura Jalovick and Woan, Tansy, Legally Mandated Inconvenience: Does Driver's License Suspension Reduce Voter Turnout? (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

John McNulty (Contact Author)

Binghamton University ( email )

PO Box 6001
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000
United States

Laura Jalovick Martin

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Tansy Woan

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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