Thank you for following the work of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. We’ll continue looking at the issues of election reform at AEI and Brookings. For new work on congressional redistricting, please visit www.redistrictingproject.org.

Viewpoint: The Rise of 'Convenience Voting'
Jessica Leval and Jennifer Marsico, Research Assistants, AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project

(This piece originally appeared in online version of The American Magazine on October 16, 2008)

October 16, 2008


Over the past three decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of absentee and early voters. Election Day (November 4) is still a few weeks away, but millions of Americans have already voted as absentee or "early" voters. In certain states--including Virginia, Idaho, Iowa, and Georgia--early voting began in mid-September.

All told, 36 states have some form of "convenience voting" in place. Over the past three decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of absentee and early voters: these voters represented roughly 15 percent of the overall election turnout in 2000 and 20 percent in 2004, compared to only 5 percent in 1980. In practical terms, the rise of convenience voting means that the weeks prior to Election Day have become increasingly important.

In the past, there have been movements in the United States to change Election Day to a weekend or to make it a federal holiday. These movements ultimately failed, but many states have taken steps to improve the ease of voting. For example, voters in Columbus, Georgia, have access to a "Vote and Vax" program, which allows them to cast their ballots and receive flu shots for a fee of $23. In Travis County, Texas, early voters may cast their ballots while going to the gym. In Columbus, Ohio, they may do so while visiting the veterans memorial downtown. Alaska has "absentee voting stations" located in major airports throughout the state, along with 40 regional election offices.

In some parts of the country, voters do not even have to leave their cars to cast ballots. Travis County, Texas, is offering "curbside voting" for voters who cannot walk or stand in line for extended periods of time--all that is necessary is a phone call in advance, and an election official will bring a ballot to a voter’s car outside the polling place. On October 20, Orange County, California, will be offering drive-thru electronic voting. Registered voters will be able to wait in one of six drive-thru lines outside the county registrar’s office and use an electronic voting machine to cast their votes.

Even Oregon--a state that votes entirely by mail--is trying to make voting more convenient. Since many residents scramble to submit ballots at the last minute, drop boxes have been placed around the state in order to cut down on Election Day traffic. These drop boxes can be found in places like McDonald’s, the public library, and the Salvation Army.

Will the introduction of such new and unusual polling stations affect voting behavior? Stanford researchers Jonah Berger, Marc Meredith, and S. Christian Wheeler have published a paper arguing that polling locations can actually prime voters’ decisions in the booth. For instance, when voting in a school, voters may weigh educational matters more heavily than they would if they were voting in an airport or a recreational center.

Most early votes tend to be cast during the week before the election, so we do not yet know what the numbers will be for 2008. But it is highly possible that the different forms of convenience voting will prove helpful in increasing overall voter turnout. Indeed, this election could mark a turning point, after which convenience voting becomes increasingly widespread.

Jessica Leval can be reached at jessica.leval@aei.org. Jennifer Marsico can be reached at jennifer.marsico@aei.org.

Viewpoint is an occasional feature analyzing various election reform issues.
Featured Resources
This report from researchers at the University of Missouri explores public opinion on a select set of issues, including Election Day registration, voting by mail, photo identification requirements, and early voting.
Ohio Senate Bill 8 | DECEMBER 2009
The Ohio State Senate approved legislation to reform various aspects of the elections process. Among the measures are enhancements to early voting rules, adoption of a matching system between voter registration files and driver’s license data, and compliance with the recently passed MOVE Act.
The EAC recently released the results of the 2008 UOCAVA survey, which aggregated information on how many UOCAVA ballots were sent, received, and counted. It is the primary tool by which Congress, federal agencies and the public can monitor the compliance with UOCAVA.
This NASS factsheet summarizes the different provisions of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which was signed into law on October 28, 2009.
This report explores a range of dimensions of turnout in the 2008 election, including the relationship between early voting and election day registration and individuals going to the polls.
Research Projects
Election Law @ Moritz, run through Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University, contains both explanation and commentary on a wealth of election reform issues from a legal perspective.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice.
This project aims to evaluate the current state of reliability and uniformity of U.S. voting systems; to establish uniform attributes and quantitative guidelines for performance and reliability of voting systems; and to propose specific uniform guidelines and requirements for reliable voting systems
FairVote develops and promotes practical strategies to improve elections at the local, state and national levels.
electionline.org provides daily news updates on election reform issues, as well as deeper analysis of selected topics, including recent reports on voter registration, recount procedures, and the progress in implementing the Help America Vote Act since 2002.
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
www.aei.org
The Brookings Institution
www.brookings.edu
© Copyright 2014, AEI
and The Brookings Institution