Published or Forthcoming Journal Articles
Abstract:The rise in mass incarceration provides a growing impetus to understand the effect that interactions with the criminal justice system have on political participation. While a substantial body of prior research studies the political consequences of criminal disenfranchisement, less work examines why eligible ex-felons vote at very low rates. We use administrative data on voting and interactions with the criminal justice system from Pennsylvania to assess whether the association between incarceration and reduced voting is causal. Using administrative records that reduce the possibility of measurement error, we employ several different research designs to investigate the possibility that the observed negative correlation between incarceration and voting might result from differences across individuals that both lead to incarceration and low participation. As this selection bias issue is addressed, we find that the estimated effect of serving time in prison on voting falls dramatically and for some research designs vanishes entirely.
Abstract:One contentious question in contemporary election administration is the impact of voter identification requirements. We study a Virginia law that allows us to isolate the impact of requiring voters to show photo identification. Using novel, precinct- level data, we find that the percentage of registered voters without a driver?s license and over age 85 are both positively associated with the number of provisional ballots cast due to a lack of photo ID. To examine the law?s impact on turnout, we associate precinct-level demographics with the change in turnout between the 2013 gubernatorial and 2014 midterm elections. All else equal, turnout was higher in places where more active registered voters lacked a driver?s license. This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Virginia Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected.
Abstract:In 2010, Harriet Cleveland was imprisoned in Montgomery, Alabama for failing to pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees stemming from routine traffic violations. More than thirty years after a series of Supreme Court rulings outlawed debtor?s prisons, Ms. Cleveland?s case brought national attention to both the sheer amount of legal financial obligations (LFOs) that could be accrued, even in cases without a criminal conviction, and the potential consequences of non-payment. But it has been nearly impossible to know how common Ms. Cleveland?s experience is because of a general lack of individual-level data on the incidence and payback of LFOs, particularly for non-felonies. In this vein, we gather about two hundred thousand court records from Alabama over the last two decades to perform the most comprehensive exploration of the assessments and payback of LFOs to date across an entire state. Consistent with conventional wisdom, we demonstrate that the median LFOs attached to a case with a felony conviction nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, after which it has remained roughly steady. But a felony-centric view of criminal justice underestimates the extent of increasing LFOs in the United States. Our systematic comparison of LFOs in felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases across Alabama demonstrates how the significant debt Ms. Cleveland accumulated for a series of minor traffic offenses is not such an aberration. We show that only a minority of LFOs are assessed in cases where someone was convicted of a felony and incarcerated. Rather, most LFOs are assessed in cases without an imposed sentence, in cases with a misdemeanor or traffic violation, or even in cases that did not result in a conviction at all. These case records also reveal substantial heterogeneity in the assessment of LFOs?both within and across local judicial districts?even in cases in which defendants were convicted on exactly the same charge.
How does Americaís high rate of incarceration shape political participation? Few studies have examined the direct effects of incarceration on patterns of political engagement.
Answering this question is particularly relevant for the 93% of formerly incarcerated individuals who are eligible to vote. Drawing on new administrative data from Connecticut, we present
evidence from a field experiment showing that a simple informational outreach campaign to released felons can recover a large proportion of the reduction in participation observed following
incarceration. The treatment effect estimates imply that efforts to reintegrate released felons into the political process can substantially reduce the participatory consequences of incarceration.
We investigate how the restoration of voting rights affects the political
participation of ex-felons. Our primary analysis uses unique data from Iowa, which changed how ex-felons restore their voting
rights in both 2005 and 2011. Prior to 2005, ex-felons had to apply to restore their voting rights. We show that ex-felon
turnout increased after Iowa began to automatically restore these rights. Consistent with misinformation being a significant
barrier to ex-felons' political participation, ex-felons were more likely to vote if they were informed about this policy
change. The application requirement was re-instated for ex-felons discharged since 2011 and we show that this reduced their
2012 presidential election turnout. We conclude by comparing the actual turnout rate of recently discharged ex-felons in Iowa,
Maine and Rhode Island to the turnout rate predicted by Uggen and Manza (2002). This comparison suggests that although restoration
procedures can substantively affect ex-felon turnout, restoration procedures are not the only reason why ex-felons vote less
often than observably similar non-felons.
We develop an incomplete-information theory of economic voting, where voters' information about macro-economic performance is
determined by the economic conditions of people similar to themselves. We test our theory using both cross-sectional and
time-series survey data. A novel survey instrument that asks respondents their numerical assessment of the unemployment rate
confirms that individuals' economic information responds to the economic conditions of people similar to themselves. Further,
these assessments are correlated with individuals' vote choices. We also show in time-series data that state unemployment
robustly correlates with evaluations of national economic conditions, and presidential support.
Criminal disenfranchisement has become an area of great legislative ferment in the wake of the rise of the carceral state and
the shadow of the 2000 presidential election. Previous research documents widespread confusion about who can and cannot vote
among both people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system and election administrators. Such research, in
concert with a wide-range of activists promoting the issue, has spurred a number of state legislatures to pass laws that
require the state to notify ex-felons about their voting rights. The purpose of this paper is to better understand the policy
processes that produce these notification laws and to assess whether these laws affect ex-felonsí registration and turnout
rates. Data on discharges from the correctional system and voter files are collected from three states that have recently
passed notification laws: New Mexico, New York, and North Carolina. We follow recent work that matches information in these
two government sources to estimate the rates of ex-felon registration and turnout. Our findings show little evidence of an
increase in ex-felon registration or turnout after notification laws are implemented.
Federalist democracies often hold concurrent elections for multiple offices that vary with respect to scope and scale.
A potential consequence of simultaneously voting for multiple offices is that the personal appeal of candidates in a high-profile race
affects electoral outcomes in less salient races. In this paper I estimate the magnitude of such coattail effects from governors onto
other concurrently elected statewide executive officers using a unique data set of county election returns for all statewide executive
office elections in the United States from 1987 to 2010. I exploit the disproportionate support that candidates receive from geographically
proximate voters, which is often referred to as the friends-and-neighbors vote, to isolate variation in the personal appeal of candidates.
The point estimates from my preferred specifications show that a one-percentage-point increase in the personal vote received by a gubernatorial
candidate increases their party's secretary of state and attorney general candidates vote shares by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points. In contrast,
personal votes for a secretary of state or attorney general candidate have no effect on the performance of their party's
gubernatorial and other down-ballot candidates.
Abstract: Survey questions about quantities offer a number of advantages over more common
qualitative questions. However, concerns about survey respondents' abilities to accurately report numbers have limited the use of quantitative
questions. This paper shows quantitative questions are feasible and useful for the study of economic voting. First, survey respondents are
capable of accurately assessing familiar economic quantities, such as the price of gas. Second, careful question design - in particular
providing respondents with benchmark quantities - can reduce measurement error due to respondents not understanding the scale on which more
complex quantities, such as the unemployment rate, are measured. Third, combining quantitative and qualitative questions sheds light on where
partisan bias enters economic assessments: in perceiving, judging, or reporting economic quantities.
Abstract: We investigate the effects of ballot order on the outcomes of California city council and
school board elections. Candidates listed first win office between four and five percentage
points more often than expected absent order effects. This first candidate advantage is larger in
races with more candidates and for higher quality candidates. The first candidate advantage is
similar across contexts: the magnitude of the effect is not statistically distinguishable in city
council and in school board elections, in races with and without an open seat, and in races
consolidated and not consolidated with statewide general elections. Standard satisficing models
cannot fully explain ballot order effects in our dataset of multi-winner elections.
Abstract: Forms of convenience voting,
including voting-by-mail (VBM), provide citizens the opportunity
to cast ballots without being exposed to the information revealed in the final weeks leading up to
Election Day. This creates the possibility that informational differences will cause VBM and
polling place voters to vote differently. We test this hypothesis by looking at whether the
increased use of VBM at the precinct-level relates to candidatesí vote shares in the 2008
California presidential primary. An election administration policy in California in which all
voters are assigned to VBM based on an arbitrary threshold of the number of registered voters is
exploited to overcome the identification problem caused by the self-selection of voters into
VBM. We show that the use of VBM affects the relative performance of candidates remaining
in the race and increases the probability of selecting withdrawn candidates. Our findings have
implications both for election administration policy and for the study of campaign effects in
American elections. Election officials should consider waiting until closer to Election Day to
send out mail ballots, or instruct people on ballots to make sure to wait until they are ready to
make a decision before voting.
Abstract: During the contest for Kansas attorney general in 2006, an organization sent out 6 pieces of mail criticizing the incumbentís
conduct in office. We exploit a discontinuity in the rule used to select which households received the mailings to identify the causal effect of mail on vote choice and voter turnout.
We find these mailings had both a statistically and politically significant effect on the challengerís vote share. Our estimates suggest that a ten percentage point increase in the amount
of mail sent to a precinct increased the challengerís vote share by approximately three percentage points. Furthermore, our results suggest that the mechanism for this increase was persuasion
rather than mobilization.
Abstract: This paper uses discontinuities imposed by voting-age restrictions to identify
the effect of past participation on subsequent participation decisionsand partisan identification. It compares participation decisions and partisan
affiliations of individuals who turned eighteen just before past elections with those who turned eighteen just after. It presents three main
findings. First, past presidential election eligibility increases the probability of subsequent participation. For example, I find that 2000
presidential election eligibility increased participation in the 2004 presidential election by 3.0 to 4.5 percent, which suggests that 2000
presidential election participation increased the probability of 2004 election participation by 4.9 to 7.3 percentage points. Second, participation
in past presidential elections affects partisan identification. Third, these effects continue to persist for several election cycles after a voter
first becomes eligible.
Abstract: Although there are compelling theoretical reasons to believe that unequal
political representation in a legislature leads to an unequal distribution of funds, testing such theories empirically is challenging
because it is difficult to separate the effects of representation from the effects of either population levels or changes. We leverage the
natural experiment generated by infrequent and discrete Census apportionment cycles to estimate the distributional effects of malapportionment
in the U.S. House of Representatives. We find that changes in representation cause changes in the distribution of federal outlays to the states.
Our method is exportable to any democratic system in which reapportionments are regular, infrequent, and non-strategic.
Abstract: This paper focuses on the strategic timing of elections by agenda-setters in direct
democracy settings. Because concurrent elections affect turnout, scheduling referenda
for different elections will produce different median voters. I hypothesize that agendasetters
with power over the timing of a referendum will schedule the referendum in
conjunction with the other set of races that produce a policy closest to their preferred
outcome. Consistent with the theory, I show that Wisconsin school boardsí use of special
elections for school referenda are related to differences in the revealed preferences of
voters in low and high turnout elections.
Abstract: American voters are assigned to vote at a particular polling
location (e.g., a church, school, etc.). We show these assigned
polling locations can influence how people vote. Analysis of a
recent general election demonstrates that people who were assigned
to vote in schools were more likely to support a school
funding initiative. This effect persisted even when controlling for
votersí political views, demographics, and unobservable characteristics
of individuals living near schools. A follow-up experiment
using random assignment suggests that priming underlies these
effects, and that they can occur outside of conscious awareness.
These findings underscore the subtle power of situational context
to shape important real-world decisions.