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Abstract

Could changing the locations of polling places affect the outcome of an election by increasing the costs of voting for some and decreasing them for others? The consolidation of voting precincts in Los Angeles County during California's 2003 gubernatorial recall election provides a natural experiment for studying how changing polling places influences voter turnout. Overall turnout decreased by a substantial 1.85 percentage points: A drop in polling place turnout of 3.03 percentage points was partially offset by an increase in absentee voting of 1.18 percentage points. Both transportation and search costs caused these changes. Although there is no evidence that the Los Angeles Registrar of Voters changed more polling locations for those registered with one party than for those registered with another, the changing of polling places still had a small partisan effect because those registered as Democrats were more sensitive to changes in costs than those registered as Republicans. The effects were small enough to allay worries about significant electoral consequences in this instance (e.g., the partisan effect might be decisive in only about one in two hundred contested House elections), but large enough to make it possible for someone to affect outcomes by more extensive manipulation of polling place locations.
... Potential voters are likely to consider the expected search costs and transportation costs associated with voting when deciding whether to vote and which vote mode to use (Brady and McNulty 2011). Search costs refer to the cost of identifying where a polling place is located and how to get there, and are thought to decrease when a potential voter repeatedly votes at the same polling place. ...
... Political science research shows that increases in search costs reduce the number of ballots voters cast in-person on Election Day. Brady and McNulty (2011) find that potential voters were 2 percentage points (p.p.) less likely to vote in-person on Election Day when they were assigned to vote at a new polling place that was located equally far from their residence as their old polling place. Two p.p. represents the median estimated reduction in in-person voting on Election Day from a polling-place change in existing work, with McNulty, Dowling, and Ariotti (2009) and Amos, Smith, and Ste. ...
... Clinton et al. (2021) show that most potential voters dissuaded from voting in-person on Election Day by increases in search and transportation costs switched to early in-person voting. In contrast, Brady and McNulty (2011) find that about 60% of the potential voters who were dissuaded from voting in-person on Election Day because of higher search costs abstained, with the other 40% shifting to mail ballots. Likewise, Amos et al. (2017) find that about 60% of the potential voters who were dissuaded from voting in-person on Election Day because of higher search costs abstained, with the other 40% shifting to early in-person voting or mail balloting. ...
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A potential voter must incur a number of costs in order to successfully cast an in-person ballot, including the costs associated with identifying and traveling to a polling place. In order to investigate how these costs affect voter turnout, we introduce two quasi-experimental designs that can be used to study how the political participation of registered voters is affected by differences in the relative distance that registrants must travel to their assigned Election Day polling place and whether their polling place remains at the same location as in a previous election. Our designs make comparisons of registrants who live on the same residential block, but are assigned to vote at different polling places. We find that living farther from a polling place and being assigned to a new polling place reduce in-person Election Day voting, but that registrants largely offset for this by casting more early in-person and mail ballots.
... Simplified and less costly postal voting by providing voters prepaid postage for their postal voting documents (Schelker & Schneiter, 2017) or by generally sending postal voting-related documents to all registered voters (Amlani & Collitt, 2022;Gerber et al., 2013) has a positive effect on turnout. Factors that are negatively related to turnout by increasing voting costs are the relocation of polling stations (Brady & McNulty, 2011) or knowledge of exit poll information (Morton et al., 2015). 2 The effect of voting in the aftermath of disasters and crises on turnout is ambiguous (Bechtel & Hainmueller, 2011;Bodet et al., 2016;Fair et al., 2017;Lasala-Blanco et al., 2017;Rudolph & Kuhn, 2017;Sinclair et al., 2011). The local prevalence of contagious diseases has been shown to rather decrease turnout (Godefroy & Henry, 2016;Noury et al., 2021;Picchio & Santolini, 2022;Urbatsch, 2017) but Blesse et al. (2020) find a slightly higher turnout in counties that reported infections with Covid-19 in the first round of the Bavarian local elections in 2020. ...
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We analyze the effect of electoral turnout on incum-bency advantages by exploring mayoral elections in the German state of Bavaria. Mayors are elected by majority rule in two-round (runoff) elections. Between the first and second ballot of the mayoral election in March 2020, the state government announced an official state of emergency. In the second ballot, voting in person was prohibited and only postal voting was possible. To construct an instrument for electoral turnout, we use a difference-in-differences strategy by contrasting turnout in the first and second ballot in 2020 with the first and second ballots from previous elections. We use this instrument to analyze the causal effect of turnout on incumbent vote shares. A 10-percentage point increase in turnout leads to a statistically robust 3.4 percentage point higher vote share for incumbent mayors highlighting the relevance of turnout-related incumbency advantages.
... Further, certain individuals and groups in society face barriers to participation, such as a lack of voting rights for felons or other restrictions on voting and participation. These barriers tend to disproportionately affect non-whites, people lower in socioeconomic status, and people who live farther away from points of participation (such as voting booth locations) (Brady and McNulty 2011;Hajnal et al. 2017;Wang 2012). Given that these factors vary across the urbanrural spectrum, such limitations may impact political participation differences by population density. ...
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