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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Lessons from New Study of 2018 Voter Turnout

In marking “the highest voter turnout in a midterm in 100 years,” the just-released “America Goes to the Polls” report by Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project examines the differences in voter turnout between states in relation to various voting policies. It’s a good read for Democrats interested in voting reforms.

“The report also ranks all 50 states by turnout, with the top ten states averaging 61% turnout of eligible voters. By comparison, the bottom ten states averaged only 43% – a gap of almost 20%.” In addition,

Seven of the top 10 states had Same Day Registration (SDR) which allows a voter to register or update their voter registration when they go to the polls. By comparison, eight of the bottom 10 states required voters to register four weeks before the election. “If I could implement only one election reform to increase voter participation, it would be Same Day Registration,” says Michael McDonald, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. “Year-after-year, states with Same Day Registration have a turnout advantage over states without the policy, including a seven-point advantage in the 2018 elections.

Also, “three of the top 10 states – Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – had Vote At Home (VAH). Utah, which in 2018 adopted both Vote at Home and Same Day Registration, saw the highest increase in turnout over the last midterm of any state in the nation.” In all, “Vote at Home states had a 15.5 percentage-point advantage over non-VAH states in 2018 state primaries.”

The report also notes that “registration growth was nearly four times higher in the five states reporting AVR results compared to states that don’t have either AVR or SDR policies.”

Some other data points from the Executive Summary:

  • The midterm voter turnout, at 50.3% nationwide, was the highest it has been in over one hundred years, since 1914.
  • Every state except Alaska and Louisiana saw an increase in midterm turnout over 2014.
  • States with SDR policies had turnout rates seven  percentage points higher than non-SDR states
  • Three of the four Vote at Home States – Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – ranked in the top ten in turnout. These states send all registered voters their ballot two or more weeks in advance and provide secure and convenient options to return it.
  • Utah, the fourth and newest state to implement Vote at Home statewide, led the nation in voter turnout growth over 2014.
  • Since 2016, 17 states and the District of Columbia have enacted automatic voter registration policies.
  • The five states* that reported their AVR registration data saw their state’s list of registered voters increase on average four times more over 2014 than the 22 states without AVR or SDR policy.
  • In contrast to most elections, voter turnout in states with the most competitive statewide elections for U.S. Senate or Governor was on average no different than turnout in states without a competitive statewide contest.
  • The number of House seats that were competitive more than doubled from 33 in 2016 to 89 seats in 2018. Still only one in five House seats were competitive and the majority of House races were uncontested or won by landslide margins of 20 percentage points or more.

To download America Goes to the Polls 2018, visit http://www.americagoestothepolls.org.

Nonprofit VOTE partners with America’s nonprofits to help the people they serve participate and vote. See nonprofitvote.org for more.

The U.S. Elections Project provides timely and accurate election statistics and research reports regarding the United States electoral system. See electproject.org for more.

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