Registering Returning Citizens to Vote

56 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2022 Last revised: 1 Mar 2022

See all articles by Jennifer L. Doleac

Jennifer L. Doleac

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics

Laurel Eckhouse

University of California, Berkeley, College of Letters & Science, Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science; University of Denver - Political Science

Eric Foster-Moore

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Allison Harris

Yale University

Hannah Walker

The University of Texas at Austin

Ariel White

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 10, 2022

Abstract

Millions of people in the US are eligible to vote despite past criminal convictions, but their voter participation rates are extraordinarily low. In this study, we report the results of a series of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of mail-based interventions aimed at encouraging people with criminal records 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 our main 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, our treatment has no effect on a comparison group of people without criminal records who live in the same neighborhoods. We find suggestive evidence that treatment effects vary across demographic groups and with the content of mailers. For instance, effects were smaller for Black recipients, and smaller when extra ''civil rights framing'' was added to the mailer text. 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 speak to how organizations can increase voter registration and turnout among people with criminal records, without necessarily changing laws to broaden eligibility.

Keywords: voting, civic engagement, criminal justice

Suggested Citation

Doleac, Jennifer L. and Eckhouse, Laurel and Foster-Moore, Eric and Harris, Allison and Walker, Hannah and White, Ariel, Registering Returning Citizens to Vote (February 10, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4031676 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4031676

Jennifer L. Doleac (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

5201 University Blvd.
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jenniferdoleac.com/

Laurel Eckhouse

University of California, Berkeley, College of Letters & Science, Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

University of Denver - Political Science ( email )

Sturm Hall, Room 466
2000 E. Asbury Ave.
Denver, CO 80208
United States

Eric Foster-Moore

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Allison Harris

Yale University ( email )

493 College St
New Haven, CT CT 06520
United States

Hannah Walker

The University of Texas at Austin ( email )

United States

Ariel White

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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