The Introduction of Voter Registration and Its Effect on Turnout

Stephen Ansolabehere
David Konisky
Political Analysis

Studies of voter turnout across states find that those with more facilitative registration laws have higher turnout rates. Eliminating registration barriers altogether is estimated to raise voter participation rates by up to 10%. This article presents panel estimates of the effects of introducing registration that exploits changes in registration laws and turnout within states. New York and Ohio imposed registration requirements on all of their counties in 1965 and 1977, respectively. We find that the introduction of registration to counties that did not previously require registration decreased participation over the long term by three to five percentage points. Though significant, this is lower than estimates of the effects of registration from cross-sectional studies and suggests that expectations about the effects of registration reforms on turnout may be overstated.

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