Preprint

Voting in a Pandemic: COVID-19 and Primary Turnout in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Authors:
Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.
To read the file of this research, you can request a copy directly from the authors.

Abstract

We report the first study of the effect of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) on voting behavior. We draw upon individual-level observations from Milwaukee matched to similar observations in the surrounding counties to assess whether fewer polling places in the primary election decreased turnout in the city. We find polling place consolidation reduced overall turnout by about 8.5 points and reduced turnout among the Black population in the city by about 10.2 points. This effect becomes more pronounced as the distance between treated and control observations on either side of the municipal boundary increases, suggestive that COVID-19 itself reduced turnout separate from polling place consolidation. We conclude on the basis of these data that conversion to widespread absentee voting in the general election will result in disenfranchisement, which may be particularly marked among racial minorities.

No file available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the file of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the authors.

ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
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.
Article
Full-text available
Matching is an R package which provides functions for multivariate and propensity score matching and for finding optimal covariate balance based on a genetic search algorithm. A variety of univariate and multivariate metrics to determine if balance actually has been obtained are provided. The underlying matching algorithm is written in C++, makes extensive use of system BLAS and scales efficiently with dataset size. The genetic algorithm which finds optimal balance is parallelized and can make use of multiple CPUs or a cluster of computers. A large number of options are provided which control exactly how the matching is conducted and how balance is evaluated.
Article
Full-text available
Commuting to and from precinct locations can be burdensome, particularly on a busy weekday in congested metropolitan areas when many voters are pressed by the demands of everyday living: work, family and school. Some precinct locations are more accessible than others, and for the less accessible ones, at least some people will feel that the cost to get there outweighs any benefit they may reap in terms of personal satisfaction from having fulfilled a civic obligation. Even after controlling for variables that account for the motivation, information and resource levels of local precinct populations, we find that accessibility does make a significant difference to turnout. The evidence points to a non-linear relationship. Distance imposes its heaviest burden on turnout in suburban precincts in the middle ranges of distance (2–5 miles). In the most rural precincts, where in spite of the distance (6–10 miles), travel routes are direct and relatively unimpeded, turnout rates are higher. We conclude with some policy recommendations that would ease the burden of getting to and from precinct sites on election day.
Article
Full-text available
The consolidation of polling places in the Vestal Central School District in New York State during the district's 2006 budget referendum provides a naturalistic setting to study the effects of polling consolidation on voter turnout on an electorate quite distinct from previous work by Brady and McNulty (2004, The costs of voting: Evidence from a natural experiment. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology, Palo Alto, CA). In particular, voters in local elections are highly motivated and therefore might be thought to be less affected by poll consolidation. Nevertheless, through a matching analysis we find that polling consolidation decreases voter turnout substantially, by about seven percentage points, even among this electorate, suggesting that even habitual voters can be dissuaded from going to the polls. This finding has implications for how election administrators ought to handle cost-cutting measures like consolidation.
Article
Full-text available
Objectives. This research examines how distance factors into the costs associated with political participation. We hypothesize that the political geography of a voter's residence affects not only the likelihood that he or she will vote, but whether the voter will choose between traditional Election Day voting or nontraditional means, such as casting an absentee ballot by mail, or going to an early-voting site. Methods. Using a geographic information system (GIS), we calculate Manhattan-block distances between voter residences and their respective precinct and nearest early-voting sites in Clark County, NV for the 2002 mid-term election. We then use these calculated distances to predict, with multinomial logistic regression, the likelihood of nonvoting, precinct voting, and nontraditional voting. Results. Our evidence suggests that the cost of traveling to reach a traditional voting site is associated with nonvoting to a point, but the relationship between distance and participation is nonlinear. Distance to traditional voting sites is also highly associated with choosing to vote by mail. Would-be nonvoters are more inclined to use proximate election-day sites than proximate early-voting sites, probably because they decide to vote so late in the campaign. Conclusions. Our findings have important implications for democratic theory, ongoing efforts to reform the electoral process, and the practice of voter mobilization.
Article
Nearest-neighbor matching is a popular nonparametric tool to create balance between treatment and control groups in observational studies. As a preprocessing step before regression, matching reduces the dependence on parametric modeling assumptions. In current empirical practice, however, the matching step is often ignored in the calculation of standard errors and confidence intervals. In this article, we show that ignoring the matching step results in asymptotically valid standard errors if matching is done without replacement and the regression model is correctly specified relative to the population regression function of the outcome variable on the treatment variable and all the covariates used for matching. However, standard errors that ignore the matching step are not valid if matching is conducted with replacement or, more crucially, if the second step regression model is misspecified in the sense indicated above. Moreover, correct specification of the regression model is not required for consistent estimation of treatment effects with matched data. We show that two easily implementable alternatives produce approximations to the distribution of the post-matching estimator that are robust to misspecification. A simulation study and an empirical example demonstrate the empirical relevance of our results.
Article
I study the effects of voting costs—specifically, distance to polling location—using geographic discontinuities. Opposite sides of boundaries between voting precincts are observationally identical, except for their assigned polling locations. This discontinuous assignment produces sharp changes in voters’ travel distance to cast their ballots. In nine municipalities in Massachusetts and Minnesota, a 1 standard deviation (0.245 mile) increase in distance reduces ballots cast by 2 to 5 percent across four elections. During non-presidential elections, effects are three times larger in high-minority areas than in low-minority areas. Finally, I simulate the impact of various counterfactual assignments of voters to polling places. (JEL D72, J15, R41)
Article
We estimate effects of early voting on voter turnout using a 2010 homogenization law from Ohio that forced some counties to expand and others to contract early voting. Using voter registration data, we compare individuals who live within the same 2 × 2 mile square block but in different counties. We find substantial positive impacts of early voting on turnout equal to 0.22 percentage points of additional turnout per additional early voting day. We also find greater impacts on women, Democrats, independents, and those of child-bearing and working age. We simulate impacts of national early day laws on recent election outcomes. (JEL D72, K16)
Article
Introduction: The 2000 election was a wake-up call for America, demonstrating the vulnerability of the democratic process to breakdowns of voting technology, election law, and election administration. It shamed states and the federal government into action, yielding, in its most expansive (and expensive) manifestation, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.1 HAVA contained many provisions; the one that most concretely addressed the Florida recount controversy required states to phase out mechanical lever machines and punch card voting. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars were authorized to underwrite this requirement.
Article
Ballot initiatives allow the public to vote directly on public policy. A literature in political science has attempted to document whether the presence of an initiative can increase voter turnout. We study this question for an initiative that appeared on the ballot in 2008 in Milwaukee, WI, using a natural experiment based on geography. This form of natural experiment exploits variation in geography where units in one geographic area receive a treatment while units in another area do not. When assign-ment to treatment via geographic location creates as-if random variation in treatment assignment, adjustment for baseline covariates is unnecessary. In many applications, however, some adjustment for baseline covariates may be necessary. As such, analysts may wish to combine identification strategies—using both spatial proximity and co-variates. We propose a matching framework to flexibly incorporate information about both geographic proximity and observed covariates which allows us to minimize spa-tial distance while preserving balance on observed covariates. This framework is also applicable to regression discontinuity designs not based on geography. We find that the initiative on the ballot in Milwaukee does not appear to have increased turnout.
Article
Helping America Vote is focused on the conflict between values of access and integrity in U.S. election administration. Kropf and Kimball examine both what was included in HAVA and what was not. Widespread agreement that voting equipment was a problem made technology the centerpiece of the legislation, and it has remedied a number of pressing concerns. But there is still reason to be concerned about key aspects of electronic voting, ballot design, and the politics of partisan administrators. It takes a legitimacy crisis for serious election reforms to happen at the federal level, and seemingly, the crisis has passed. However, the risk is still very much present for the electoral process to fail. What are the implications for democracy when we attempt reform?.
Article
In recent years, there has been a burst of innovative work on methods for estimating causal effects using observational data. Much of this work has extended and brought a renewed focus on old approaches such as matching, which is the focus of this review. The new developments highlight an old tension in the social sciences: a focus on research design versus a focus on quantitative models. This realization, along with the renewed interest in field experiments, has marked the return of foundational questions as opposed to a fascination with the latest estimator. I use studies of get-out-the-vote interventions to exemplify this development. Without an experiment, natural experiment, a discontinuity, or some other strong design, no amount of econometric or statistical modeling can make the move from correlation to causation persuasive.
Article
This article provides a new measure of voting costs by using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools to calculate the distance between the residence and polling place for registered voters in the city of Atlanta. Using this measure to predict turnout at the individual level, we find that small differences in distance from the polls can have a significant impact on voter turnout. We also find that moving a polling place can affect the decision to vote. In addition to providing a better understanding of the costs of voting, our findings have important implications regarding the location of polling places and the effects of altering precinct boundaries.
Who's Requesting Mail Ballots in Georgia's Upcoming Primary?
  • Kevin Morris
Morris, Kevin. 2020. "Who's Requesting Mail Ballots in Georgia's Upcoming Primary?" Brennan Center for Justice. June 10, 2020. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/ research-reports/whos-requesting-mail-ballots-georgias-upcoming-primary.
Analysis | Here's the Problem with Mail-in Ballots: They Might Not Be Counted
  • Enrijeta Shino
  • Mara Suttmann-Lea
  • Daniel A Smith
Shino, Enrijeta, Mara Suttmann-Lea, and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. "Analysis | Here's the Problem with Mail-in Ballots: They Might Not Be Counted." Washington Post. May 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/21/heres-problem-with-mailin-ballots-they-might-not-be-counted/.
Lack of Poll Workers Across Wisconsin, Flood of Absentee Ballots Spark Fears Votes Will Go Uncounted
  • Patrick Marley
  • Molly Beck
Marley, Patrick, and Molly Beck. 2020. "Lack of Poll Workers Across Wisconsin, Flood of Absentee Ballots Spark Fears Votes Will Go Uncounted." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2020. https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/03/31/ coronavirus-wisconsin-tony-evers-asks-state-workers-staff-polls/5093547002/.
Evers Calls for All Voters to Be Mailed Absentee Ballots | WisPolitics.Com
  • David Wise
Wise, David. 2020. "Evers Calls for All Voters to Be Mailed Absentee Ballots | WisPolitics.Com." WisPolitics, March 27, 2020. https://www.wispolitics.com/2020/evers-callsfor-all-voters-to-be-mailed-absentee-ballots/.