Voting Turnout and Parity in Washington State

ABOUT PROJECT DROP BOX

As one of only three states in the nation to vote exclusively by mail, Washington has become a national leader in voting policy. We are three political scientists and two economists examining voting outcomes in Washington to investigate the effect of voting policy on turnout and turnout parity.  One recently completed  project analyzes the effect drop box expansions has had in King County.  We're currently working on a second project in Pierce County, Washington. Read more about our King County study in a recent Op Ed in the Seattle Times.

MOTIVATION

Research tells us that when voting locations are closer and more convenient, people are more likely to vote. When states switch to vote-by-mail (VBM), as Washington, Oregon and Colorado have now done, we also know that more people vote. Yet we also know that ballot drop boxes are popular ways to vote in VBM states. We’re interested in understanding why voters choose drop boxes, and whether they improve voter turnout and voting parity. The answers to these questions can tell us whether, in the name of voter turnout, the nationwide movement to VBM should be accompanied by ballot drop boxes, how many, and where they should be located.

KING COUNTY WASHINGTON STUDY OF DROP BOXES
Our research team of Loren Collingwood (UC Riverside), Will McGuire (UW Tacoma), Katie Baird (UW Tacoma), Ben Gonzalez O’Brien (Highline College), and Sarah Hampson (UW Tacoma) recently examined King County Washington after it expanded its countywide drop boxes from 10 to 43. We wanted to know what effect this expansion had on voter turnout and voting parity. 

FINDINGS
We studied how the installation of new ballot drop boxes affected voter turnout in King County, WA between the 2015 and 2016 elections. We found that reducing voters' distance to their nearest drop box by one standard deviation increased the likelihood of voting by one to nine percent. Yet the impact of closer drop boxes varies by socio-demographic group and by election type. The effect is larger for primary and off-year elections, and is larger for older and male voters. We also find that reducing distances to the nearest drop box increases turnout only among white (European) voters in general elections.  Reducing distance to the nearest drop box increases turnout among all ethnic groups in primary elections, but effects are larger for Asian and African American voters.  You can find a draft of our research findings here. We also discuss the results of our King County study in a recent Seattle Times oped.  

PIERCE COUNTY WASHINGTON STUDY OF DROP BOXES AND ADVERTISING
Go here to learn about our current Drop Box project in Pierce County, Washington.