With a hat-tip to NC Voter, who added this link as a comment to my last post, the following editorial was posted on ThomPaine.com, and is by Project Vote’s Teresa James and Michael Slater. I am only highlighting Oregon’s section from the article, but it is well worth reading the entire editorial.
Vote by mail’s effect on voter turnout is at best neutral, but may favor affluent voters.
VBM supporters suggest that turnout will increase with all mail elections and point to early studies showing an increase in Oregon voter turnout of up to 10 percentage points. Subsequent research contradicts these findings or presents a far more nuanced picture of VBM’s effects on voting. Most recently, political scientists Thad Kousser and Megan Mullin conducted a rigorous analysis of two recent elections in California, where election law allows officials to designate small precincts as VBM precincts for specific elections. The researchers first paired each VBM precinct with a polling place precinct with similar demographics, averaged the turnout in all the VBM precincts and all the polling place precincts, and then compared the results. They found that turnout in VBM precincts were 2.6 and 2.9 percentage points lower than in polling place precincts.
The most recent examination of VBM’s effect on Oregon’s turnout concludes that, far from the initial 10 percentage point increase some researchers found, VBM increased turnout by four percentage points and only in presidential election years.
More important than the size of any increase in turnout is who is voting under VBM who would not otherwise have voted. Here, researchers have reached a consensus. To the extent that VBM increases turnout in Oregon it does so by retaining voters who are occasional rather than habitual voters. Further, these voters are demographically similar to habitual voters. In other words, VBM does nothing to expand the electorate in ways that make it more representative of the voting age population. In fact, as MIT political scientist Adam Berinsky writes: “VBM in Oregon accentuated the stratification of the electorate. Specifically, VBM mobilized those already predisposed to vote—those individuals who are long-term residents and who are registered partisans—to turn out at higher rates than before.”
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