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Driving Saints to Sin: How Increasing the Difficulty of Voting Dissuades Even the Most Motivated Voters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

John E. McNulty*
Department of Political Science, Binghamton University, P.O. Box 6000 Binghamton, NY 13902-6000.
Conor M. Dowling
Institution for Social & Policy Studies, Yale University, 77 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06520. e-mail:
Margaret H. Ariotti
Department of Political Science and Department of Geography, Binghamton University, P.O. Box 6000 Binghamton, NY 13902-6000. e-mail:
e-mail: (corresponding author)


The consolidation of polling places in the Vestal Central School District in New York State during the district's 2006 budget referendum provides a naturalistic setting to study the effects of polling consolidation on voter turnout on an electorate quite distinct from previous work by Brady and McNulty (2004, The costs of voting: Evidence from a natural experiment. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology, Palo Alto, CA). In particular, voters in local elections are highly motivated and therefore might be thought to be less affected by poll consolidation. Nevertheless, through a matching analysis we find that polling consolidation decreases voter turnout substantially, by about seven percentage points, even among this electorate, suggesting that even habitual voters can be dissuaded from going to the polls. This finding has implications for how election administrators ought to handle cost-cutting measures like consolidation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology 

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Authors' note: Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Las Vegas, Nevada—The Riviera Hotel and Casino—March 8–10, 2007; and at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois—The Palmer House Hilton—April 3–6, 2008. We are grateful to Gregory Robinson, Jonathan S. Krasno, Christopher Zorn, Craig Laramee, Jasjeet Sekhon, Robi Ragan, Henry E. Brady, Cynthia Van Maanen, Superintendent Mark Capobianco, Dr. Annamary Allen, the Vestal Central School District, the Broome County Board of Elections, the Tioga County Board of Elections, Kevin Heard of the Binghamton University Geographic Information System Campus Core Facility, and Michael P. Welch and Blitwise Productions ( We are also grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. We are grateful to the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University and the National Science Foundation (Project: 1057309, Award: 40509). This research was approved by the Human Subjects Research Review Committee of Binghamton University on May 9, 2006; thanks to Anne Casella, vice chair of the committee, for her gracious support and assistance. All errors and omissions are the responsibility of the authors. Replication materials are available on the Political Analysis Web site.


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