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Voter Registration Costs and Disenfranchisement: Experimental Evidence from France

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2017

Sciences Po Saint-Germain-University of Cergy-Pontoise
Université de Montpellier
Harvard Business School
Céline Braconnier is Professor, Director of Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 5 rue Pasteur, 78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France (
Jean-Yves Dormagen is Professor, Université de Montpellier, Centre d'Etudes Politiques de l'Europe Latine, 39 rue de l'Université, 34000 Montpellier, France (
Vincent Pons is Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School, Soldiers Field, Morgan Hall 289, Boston, MA 02163, United States (


A large-scale randomized experiment conducted during the 2012 French presidential and parliamentary elections shows that voter registration requirements have significant effects on turnout, resulting in unequal participation. We assigned 20,500 apartments to one control or six treatment groups that received canvassing visits providing either information about registration or help to register at home. While both types of visits increased registration, home registration visits had a higher impact than information-only visits, indicating that both information costs and administrative barriers impede registration. Home registration did not reduce turnout among those who would have registered anyway. On the contrary, citizens registered due to the visits became more interested in and knowledgeable about the elections as a result of being able to participate in them, and 93% voted at least once in 2012. The results suggest that easing registration requirements could substantially enhance political participation and interest while improving representation of all groups.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2017 

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We are grateful to Daron Acemoglu, Stephen Ansolabehere, Abhijit Banerjee, Adam Berinksy, Esther Duflo, Alan Gerber, Jens Hainmueller, Daniel Hidalgo, Benjamin Olken, Daniel Posner, James Snyder, seminar participants at Yale, MIT, LSE, Stanford GSB, HBS, Bocconi, Warwick, TSE, Crest, UCSD, Northwestern Kellogg, Stockholm IIES, Sciences Po, INSEAD, and conference participants at APSA, EPSA, WPSA, NYU-CESS, and CASP for suggestions that have improved the article. We thank Caroline Le Pennec and Ghislain Gabalda for the outstanding research assistance they provided throughout the entire project and Aude Soubiron for her assistance in the administration of the interventions in the cities surrounding Bordeaux. We thank the town hall administration of each of the ten cities included in the experiment for their generous collaboration and are indebted to all canvassers who administered the interventions, including students from the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the University Cergy-Pontoise, the IEP of Bordeaux and the Université de Montpellier, the NGO of retired workers of the MGEN, the NGO “Tous Citoyens,” the NGO “RAJ-LR,” local units of the Socialist Party in Cergy, Sevran and Carcassonne, and the local unit of the Front de Gauche in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Russell Sage Foundation, MIT France, the Tobin Project, the city of Montpellier, the University of Montpellier 1, and the University of Cergy-Pontoise.



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