Voting Turnout and Parity in Washington State


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 a team of political scientists and economists examining voting outcomes in Washington to investigate the effect of voting policy on turnout and turnout parity.  One recently completed project, published in Election Law Journal, analyzes the effect drop box expansions has had in King County.  We're currently working on another project in Pierce County, Washington. Read more about our King County study in the recent Op Ed below, published in the Seattle Times.


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 know that it results in more people voting. 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, and if so, where they should be located.

Our research team of Loren Collingwood (UC Riverside), Will McGuire (UW Tacoma), Katie Baird (UW Tacoma),  Ben Gonzalez O’Brien (San Diego State University), 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. 

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.  

Go here to learn about our current Drop Box project in Pierce County, Washington.