There’s a good story at by Nathaniel Rakich on the turnout effects of automatic voter registration. He does a good job identifying the boundaries of the potential effects, and is sensitive to the difficult problem of identifying the counter-factual.

Gronke quote about behavioral economics and opt-in / opt-out implementation:

And then there’s the behavioral economics of it all. Reed College professor Paul Gronke told FiveThirtyEight that social science research has generally found that an opt-out system (like AVR) is more effective than an opt-in one (like having to actively register yourself).

The research continues!

Early Voting and the Iowa Caucus: Can They Coexist?

A great article in Salon by the always insightful Steven Rosenfeld illustrates the difficulties of implementing national party mandates for a fully inclusive primary system while retaining the unique in-person and face to face features of the Iowa caucus.

The immediate takeaway from the article is that the phone-based system for “virtual voting” that was proposed in Iowa and Nevada has severe security risks, and it’s been abandoned. The bigger question, it seems to me, is whether or not requiring absentee (and presumably early) voting in Iowa will fundamentally alter the dynamics of this contest, with reverberations down the line in our sequential nominating process.

In Why Iowa, Professors David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan provide a full-throated defense of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus. Two parts of their argument are distinct from caucus rules–they defend a sequential process and Iowa’s position in that process.

The bulk of the book, however, focuses on the caucus itself, and how the caucus rules; public learning, information, deliberation and participation levels; and media coverage are unique to the caucus.

From an election administration and electoral process perspective, it’s not clear to me that a requirement for some kind of “absentee voting” can be squared with the caucus as it is currently designed.

It seems to me–and Dave, Caroline, and Todd will surely correct me if I’m wrong–that their argument about the merits of the Iowa caucus is largely one driven by locality and place. You need to be in Iowa, experiencing the candidate visits, canvassing, media scrutiny, and engaging in conversations with your fellow citizens. We may cynically dismiss the role of face to face politics in this day and age, but their results show that face to face politics really matters in Iowa.

How can one participate in a caucus if the ballot is cast by phone or over the internet, weeks before the event? Isn’t this fundamentally a different kind of voting?

We might have had an answer in 2020 (yay research!) but for now, virtual voting in Iowa looks like it’s not in the cards.

By Ellen Seljan, Paul Gronke, and Matthew Yancheff.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) systems register to vote all eligible individuals who transact with proscribed government agencies, most commonly the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs). Many individuals interact with the DMV due to the need to renew their drivers’ licenses. Because licences expire on birthdays, an individual’s birth date can be used as an exogenous reason why some individuals are registered to vote in time for an election, whereas others are not. Our analysis compares registration and voting rates for individuals with birth dates prior and subsequent to the voter registration deadline. After calculating a causal effect of AVR on turnout at the individual level, we extrapolate this effect to the overall effect of AVR on total voter turnout by state.

Download the paper here.

Hot off the presses!


Reporting Results from the 2018 DF/RC LEO Survey: The "Bin" Question

We are nearing a final release of the 2018 Democracy Fund / Reed College Local Election Official survey. Our current discussion is all about the “bins”. In other words, what is the best way to categorize local election officials, and by implication local election jurisdictions, so as to provide some meaningful categories for comparison but not lump together very disparate locations.

There’s no magic formula for making this choice, as David Kimball and Brady Baybeck showed so effectively in the 2013 Election Law Journal article,”Are All Jurisdictions Equal? Size Disparity in Election Administration.” As of 2008, Kimball and Baybeck showed how the population of local election officials is dominated by small jurisdictions, yet the majority of registered voters live in larger jurisdictions (see Figures 1 and 2, reproduced from their article).

Kimball and Baybeck chose to report their results by “small”, “medium”, and “large” as shown in the figures, because they argued these categories reflected fundamental distinctions in the nature of election administration:

To simplify some of the analyses that follow, we divide the universe of local jurisdictions into three size categories: small (serving less than 1,000 voters), medium (serving between 1,000 and 50,000 voters), and large jurisdictions (serving more than 50,000 voters). We chose 1,000 voters as one divid- ing line because jurisdictions with fewer than 1,000 voters are generally small towns that have no more than a couple of polling places and a handful of poll workers. We expect these jurisdictions to have a different election administration experience than larger jurisdictions. In addition, roughly one-third of the jurisdictions served less than 1,000 voters in recent presidential elections, so this serves as a natural break in the data.

We chose 50,000 voters as the other dividing line because jurisdictions serving more than 50,000 vot- ers tend to be in densely populated metropolitan areas with a large central city. Thus, the largest jurisdictions have different infrastructure and transportation networks than the medium-sized jurisdictions, which are mostly rural and exurban counties. Together, these dimensions characterize what we define as small, medium, and large jurisdictions in a variety of analyses below. The smallest jurisdictions are primarily in the upper Midwest and New England, with a smaller number in the Plains. Large jurisdictions are concentrated in the major metropolitan centers of the United States.

Our 2018 distributions look quite similar to what David and Brady found. Below, we’ve reproduced histograms displays of jurisdictions, first counties and then townships, by populations of registered voters. Most notable is how very many local election officials serve in townships in the United States (predominantly in Michigan, Wisconsin, and in New England) yet how very few (comparatively) voters there are in those jurisdictions (note that we have excluded jurisdictions that serve 100,000 or more registered voters, for the purposes of making the display readable–those jurisdictions administer elections for 35% of all registered voters).


While the final report is not yet complete (coming attractions!), we have tentatively decided to split the difference, in hopefully what is an instructive and not Solomonic division.

We will report our results in these bins:

  1. 0-5,000 registered voters. These jurisdictions comprise 25% of our LEO respondents and 2.9% of registered voters
  2. 5,001 – 25,000 registered voters. These jurisdictions comprise 30%of our respondents and serve 12.7% of registered voters.
  3. 25,001 – 100,000 registered voters. 30% of respondents and 18.5% of voters
  4. 100,001 – largest. 15% of responses and 66.9% of voters.

The discerning reader will notice that the last category covers a lot of voters. This is unavoidable, because this category includes not very many LEOs, relatively speaking, and our survey guarantees confidentiality to our respondents. We can report some results with the final bin broken into two smaller bins, but we must honor the commitment we made to our respondents.

This is the reality of American election administration. It’s a classic case where diversity and decentralization are both a source of strength but also can create inequities in funding and voter access.

Geocoding Partnership

EVIC partners with Texas A&M Geoservices to help students at Reed College geocode elections data.

Thanks A&M!


National Vote at Home Institute Announces Circle of Advisors to Include Paul Gronke, EVIC Director





The National Vote at Home Institute has brought together a powerful, diverse, bipartisan and non-partisan group of election reformers… to strengthen American democracy”.

Vote at Home announced that Paul Gronke, EVIC Founder and Director, will now serve on their Circle of Advisors. Gronke reacts to the news:

Proud to be a member of the Circle of Advisors for the National Vote At Home Institute. The set of advisors includes many experienced election administrators, elected officials, and advocates. I’m pleased that EVIC’s record as a non-partisan purveyor of research, data, and information on non-precinct place voting, including of course vote at home, can contribute the the Institute.

The announcement from Vote at Home including a full list of members and the newly announced directors can be found here.

For more information about Vote at Home, check out their webpage here.