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Identifying the Effect of All-Mail Elections on Turnout: Staggered Reform in the Evergreen State*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2013

Alan S. Gerber
Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, USA
Gregory A. Huber
Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, USA
Seth J. Hill
Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, USA


What effect does moving to all-mail elections have on participation? On one hand, all registered voters automatically receive a ballot to return by mail at their convenience. On the other hand, the social aspect of the polling place, and the focal point of election day, is lost. Current estimates of the effect of all-mail elections on turnout are ambiguous. This article offers an improved design and new estimates of the effect of moving to all-mail elections. Exploiting cross-sectional and temporal variation in county-level implementation of all-mail elections in Washington State, we find that the reform increased aggregate participation by two to four percentage points. Using individual observations from the state voter file, we also find that the reform increased turnout more for lower-participating registrants than for frequent voters, suggesting that all-mail voting reduces turnout disparities between these groups.

Original Articles
Copyright © The European Political Science Association 2013 

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Gerber and Huber: Center for the Study of American Politics, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, P.O. Box 208209, New Haven, CT 06520-8209, United States (, Hill: Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521 United States, Earlier versions of this paper were circulated with the title “Identifying the Effects of Elections Held All-Mail on Turnout.” We thank Kevin Arceneaux and Marc Meredith for their comments. Replication material is available at or


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