Does State Outreach to People Who Are Eligible but Unregistered to Vote Increase Registration?
Registering to vote is one of the most critical components of the U.S. voting process, serving as a prerequisite for casting a ballot in almost every state. Accordingly, reforms that aim to increase registration among citizens who are eligible to vote, while also decreasing barriers to registration, play an important role in expanding voter access.
Toward this end, states make use of various policies, procedures, and practices, including online voter registration, automatic voter registration, and Election Day registration. Another such procedure, available to members of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), involves sending mailers to citizens who are likely eligible but unregistered to vote (known as EBUs).
ERIC, a nonprofit organization working to improve U.S. voter roll accuracy and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens, identifies EBUs through a process that involves matching voter registration rolls with lists of driver licenses and state identification cards. ERIC then provides lists of EBUs to its member states, which contact EBUs through mailers to educate them on how to register and encourage them to do so.
A recent study by researchers Christopher Mann and Lisa Bryant found that simple government outreach to EBUs using such mailers increased voter registration rates in Delaware and Oregon. Given these encouraging results, CEIR decided to conduct similar large-scale field experiments across multiple states.
During the fall of 2020, we worked with election officials in eight states to examine the extent to which government outreach to EBUs impacts registration rates. Officials sent mailers to EBUs in at least two batches: first to EBUs randomly assigned to the treatment group and later to EBUs randomly assigned to the control group. The time between these mailings served as our study period, during which we observed the difference in registration rates between the two groups. We hypothesized that registration rates would be significantly higher among EBUs in the treatment group than those in the control group. Using data collected from our eight partner states’ EBU lists and voter files, we found statistically significant evidence in support of our hypothesis.
Our findings carry strong practical implications for state election officials and advance the research on government outreach to EBUs. Election officials can significantly increase voter registration among EBUs by contacting them via simple, relatively inexpensive mailers. This study bolsters previous findings with evidence from a wider selection of states, adding to a growing literature on the benefits of ERIC membership and the efficacy of government outreach in successful elections administration.