Registering Returning Citizens to Vote
49 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2022 Last revised: 16 Feb 2023
Date Written: February 10, 2022
Millions of people in the United States are eligible to vote despite past felony convictions, but their voter participation rates are extraordinarily low. In this study, we report the results of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of mail-based interventions aimed at encouraging people with a felony conviction to register to vote in North Carolina. We use a novel approach to identify and contact this population, using a combination of administrative data and data from a commercial vendor. In a field experiment conducted in the fall of 2020, we find that, on average, our mailers increased voter registration by 0.8 percentage points (12%), and voter turnout in the general election by 0.5 percentage points (11%). By contrast, the treatment has no effect on a comparison group of people without known felony convictions who live in the same neighborhoods. We find suggestive evidence that treatment effects vary across demographic groups and with the content of mailers. Overall, we demonstrate that it is possible to identify, contact, and mobilize a marginalized group that is not effectively targeted by existing outreach efforts. Our results show how organizations can increase voter registration and turnout among people with past criminal records, without necessarily changing laws to broaden eligibility.
Keywords: voting, civic engagement, criminal justice
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