Res Publica - Journal of Undergraduate Research


Over the last decade, electoral reform has become a topic of intense controversy in the United States. While Republicans highlight the need for strict voting laws to prevent voter fraud and maintain election integrity, Democrats argue that these laws create barriers to voting and decrease voter turnout. How have U.S. voting laws evolved over the last decade? How do these changes affect voter turnout? Which voting laws have the greatest impact on voter turnout? Researchers Larocca and Klemanski (2011) provide answers to some of these questions through an empirical analysis on the effects of state-level election laws and reforms on voter turnout in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections. Using a cost-benefit model, the authors find evidence to support their hypothesis: reducing both the number of trips and the number of tasks required to vote has the most positive impact on voter turnout. Building on this I hypothesize that states with more restrictive voter laws will have a lower voter turnout than states with less restrictive voter laws. I also hypothesize that voter registration deadlines will have the greatest impact on voter turnout. Compiling state-level data on early in-person voting, absentee voting, voter identification requirements, and voter registration deadlines from 2012, 2016, and 2020, I use linear regression to analyze the effects of the average restrictiveness of voting laws on voter turnout. The results of this model reveal that voting law restrictiveness has a highly suggestive effect on voter turnout. As the average restrictiveness of voting laws increased, voter turnout decreased anywhere from 4.7 to 8.0 percent. In addition, voter registration deadlines had a significant impact on voter turnout in all three election years. These results provide compelling implications for future policy proposals regarding election laws. They also pose interesting questions for future research relating to who is most affected by these voting laws.