It Helps to Ask: New Washington State Research Demonstrates Power of Outreach on Voter Registration

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[Image courtesy of KOIN]

Last week, Pew’s election team used an Election Data Dispatch to publicize some new research from Washington State which shows that eligible but unregistered citizens register to vote at higher rates when you simply ask them to do so.

Washington conducted the mailing as part of its participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center, and asked Christopher Mann of LSU and Lindsay Pryor of the Secretary of State’s office to test the efficacy of the results. Here’s what they found (from the Dispatch):

Eligible voters received postcards in September 2013 with one of two messages intended to stimulate registration:

  • Online treatment–This postcard was designed to illustrate the ease of online registration with the message “3 minutes. Click. Done. Register to vote online.”
  • Community treatment–This postcard emphasized the social norm of voting with the message “76% of people like you register to vote” and invited recipients to “join the voting community.”
  • Control group–The control group received no content from the Office of the Secretary of State.

The postcards were printed in three versions–English; English and Spanish; and English, Chinese, and Vietnamese–to comply with language requirements of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act in certain jurisdictions.

The online and community messages resulted in significantly higher rates of registration compared with the control group’s 3.5 percent:

  • + [C]ommunity treatment generated a 34 percent increase [4.7%] in the registration rate.
  • [O]nline treatment yielded a 46 percent increase [5.1%].

This is an important finding; while one might expect that outreach would have a positive effect, the fact that simple messages can increase registration rates up to 50% suggests that such programs are vital parts of any state’s efforts to expand and maintain its voter rolls. The results also suggest that online registration – which continues to grow in popularity – can also have a strong upward effect on registration rates.

Hopefully, there will be more data from other ERIC states as well as future data from similar outreach efforts in Washington State. All of this data will be extremely helpful in understanding how well the new breed of registration reforms is affecting the propensity of voters to join the rolls.

Thanks to Christopher Mann and Lindsay Pryor for their study as well as to Pew for their continued support of research like this!

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