Expert Commentary

Effect of convenience voting on election outcomes

2011 study from University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University on the potential consequences of early voting methods.

Vote-by-mail and early in-person voting are common forms of convenience voting, which gives citizens flexibility in deciding when to vote. The goal has been to increase voter turnout, but a University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University study indicates there can be unanticipated consequences.

Using data from the 2008 Californian presidential election, the study, “Convenience Voting Can Affect Election Outcomes,” looked at the effect of convenience voting on the contest. Because early voting locks in choices, the authors found, it leads to information loss late in the campaign. Such information can include candidates’ withdrawals and or changes in their momentum in primaries.

Key findings from this study include:

  • Convenience voting increases the vote shares of withdrawn candidates.
  • Vote-by-mail affects the relative performance of candidates that remain in the race.
  • Voters significantly changed their vote choices in response to political events such as the presidential primaries, which was between the distribution of ballots and Election Day.

The authors state that given the tradeoff between voters’ convenience and information loss, election officials may need to reconsider when to begin early voting.

Tags: elections

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