The Effect of Voting Systems on Voter Participation

Working Paper No.: 
Date Published: 
Peg Rosenfield
Office of the Secretary of State of Ohio
Russell Schussler

Herb Asher’s 1982 conference paper, “The Effect of Voting Systems on Voter Participation,”
has a distinguished place in the literature of political science about voting technologies. Three
things stand out about this work. First, it is among the earliest research within the discipline about the performance of voting technologies and its role in influencing elections. Second, it examines as a dependent variable what we would call the “residual vote,” although here it is called “fall-off.” Third, the methodology is in the spirit of a “natural experiment,” an important feature in voting technology research that, alas, still eludes much of the field.

The occasion of the paper was the 1978 Ohio gubernatorial election, which witnessed an anomalous drop in the number of votes cast for governor, in comparison to other statewide races. As Asher explains in the paper, the research arose from the Secretary of State’s office puzzling over what was behind this anomaly. Their inability to solve the puzzle led to a phone call to the other side of Columbus, and the rest is history. The story behind the genesis of this study points out how the rare collaboration between academics interested in the machinery (pun intended) of elections and election officials can yield important knowledge both to the academy and to election administrators.

Because this paper was given as a conference paper, but never published, its virtues have been hidden under a bushel from those interested in the role of voting technologies in elections. The Voting Technology Project is delighted that Professor Asher has agreed to our publishing this classic in our series of Research Papers on Election Administration and Voting Technology.

Charles Stewart III

February 4, 2011

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