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

  • Alan S. Gerber (a1), Gregory A. Huber (a1) and Seth J. Hill (a2)

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.

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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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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Kevin Arceneaux , Thad Kousser Megan Mullin . 2012. ‘Get Out the Vote-by-Mail? A Randomized Field Experiment Testing the Effect of Mobilization in Traditional and Vote-by-Mail Precincts’. Political Research Quarterly 65:882894.

Adam J Berinsky . 2005. ‘The Perverse Consequences of Electoral Reform in the United States’. American Politics Research 33(4):471491.

Adam J. Berinsky , Nancy Burns Michael W. Traugott . 2001. ‘Who Votes by Mail?: A Dynamic Model of the Individual-Level Consequences of Voting-by-Mail Systems’. Public Opinion Quarterly 65(2):178197.

Marianne Bertrand , Esther Duflo Sendhil Mullainathan . 2004. ‘How Much Should We Trust Differences-In-Differences Estimates?’ The Quarterly Journal of Economics 119(1):249275.

Patricia Funk . 2010. ‘Social Incentives and Voter Turnout: Evidence from the Swiss Mail Ballot System’. Journal of the European Economic Association 8(5):10771103.

Alan S. Gerber , Gregory A. Huber , David Doherty , Conor M. Dowling Seth J. Hill . 2013. ‘Do Perceptions of Ballot Secrecy Influence Turnout? Results from a Field Experiment’. American Journal of Political Science forthcoming.

Paul Gronke , Eva Galanes-Rosenbaum , Peter A. Miller Daniel Toffey . 2008. ‘Convenience Voting’. Annual Review of Political Science 11(1):437455.

Jeffrey A. Karp Susan A. Banducci . 2000. ‘Going Postal: How All-Mail Elections Influence Turnout’. Political Behavior 22:223239.

Roger Larocca John S. Klemanski . 2011. ‘U.S. State Election Reform and Turnout in Presidential Elections’. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 11(1):76101.

Simon Luechinger , Myra Rosinger Alois Stutzer . 2007. ‘The Impact of Postal Voting on Participation: Evidence for Switzerland’. Swiss Political Science Review 13:167202.

David B Magleby . 1987. ‘Participation in Mail Ballot Elections’. Western Political Quarterly 40(1):7991.

Sean Richey . 2008. ‘Voting by Mail: Turnout and Institutional Reform in Oregon’. Social Science Quarterly 89(4):902915.

Daron R Shaw . 2006. The Race to 270: The Electoral College and the Campaign Strategies of 2000 and 2004. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Priscilla L Southwell . 2009. ‘Analysis of The Turnout Effects of Vote By Mail Elections, 1980–2007’. The Social Science Journal 46:211217.

Priscilla L. Southwell Justin I. Burchett . 2000b. ‘The Effect of All-mail Elections on Voter Turnout’. American Politics Research 28(1):7279.

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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
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