Marc Meredith Penn logo

Curriculum Vitae


Contact Information
University of Pennsylvania
Department of Political Science

PCPSE, Room 403
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Office Phone: 215-746-7672
Cell Phone: 215-264-2223


Working Papers

    Abstract: Some states specify a ballot curing process so that voters can correct problems with returned mail ballots that would cause them to be rejected. We identify three key elements of a ballot curing process that we theorize affect whether voters utilize such a process to make their ballot count. First, the speed and the number of channels through which election officials distribute information about the problem to voters. Second, whether voters can correct the error without having to cast a new ballot. Third, whether stakeholders who engage in voter outreach are aware of these problematic mail ballots. We highlight the importance of all three of these elements in the ballot curing process used by North Carolina in the 2020 general election. In this election, about 82 percent of the roughly 26,000 voters who submitted a mail ballot eligible for a cure process ultimately cast a ballot that counted. About 39 percent of these counted ballots were cast in-person. Having the mail ballot sent to a voter's address of registration and initially returning the mail ballot long before Election Day were two of the most important predictors of whether someone eligible for this cure process ultimately cast a ballot that counted.
    Abstract: Convenience voting laws have proliferated rapidly in recent years, but research on absentee voting has lagged behind practice. Our paper examines Texas, which allows people age 65 or older to vote no-excuse absentee, arbitrarily dividing otherwise similar individuals just-older and just-younger than 65 into groups that are eligible and ineligible to vote absentee, respectively. Contrary to the literature, we find that less-frequent voters use absentee voting more, particularly among the oldest cohorts. Leveraging Texas' age discontinuity in eligibility, we show that voters quasi-randomly stimulated to vote absentee in the previous presidential election were at least 37% more likely to vote absentee four years later. Still, we do not find evidence that the ability to vote no-excuse absentee increases the turnout of 65 year olds. Our research suggests that scholars should reexamine who requires convenience voting and pay greater attention to its long-run effects.
    Abstract: Previous work shows that candidates receive more personal votes, frequently called "friends-and-neighbors" votes, in areas where they have local attachments. This article examines heterogeneity in friends-and-neighbors voting near candidates' counties of birth and residence in U.S. statewide executive office elections. Using two large datasets, I estimate how the magnitude of the friends-and-neighbors vote varies across candidate types, electoral environments, offices, and voters. Candidates' vote shares increase by substantially more in their counties of birth and residence than in neighboring counties. Candidates vote shares increase by more in home counties that are less populated and generally less supportive of their party. The salience of the office does not relate to the amount of friends-and-neighbors voting. Although incumbents and non-incumbents receive similar amounts of friends-and-neighbors votes, challengers who currently hold local or state-legislative oce receive more friends-and-neighbors support. Finally, I show that friends-and-neighbors voting decreased across time.
    Abstract: A substantial body of work shows that partisanship is the most important determinant of voter behavior in state and national elections, but little research has examined the relationship between partisanship and voting at the local level. We begin to fill this gap in the literature by looking at the role of partisanship in the 2009 Ohio and Pennsylvania school board elections. We first examine how the partisan identification of school board members matches their constituents. We find that, on average, school board members are less Democratic than their constituents. We then exploit a unique feature of Pennsylvania school board elections to estimate the effect of party endorsements on candidates’ vote shares. Candidates are allowed to run simultaneously for both the Democratic and Republican nomination, with the possibility of appearing on the general election ballot as a dual nominee. Thus we have the opportunity to compare the performance of candidates who win two nominations to those who win only one. Our point estimates from a regression discontinuity design based on close elections indicate that a second nomination is associated with vote share gains of 14 to 19 percentage points.

Published or Forthcoming Journal Articles

    Abstract: A potential voter must incur a number of costs in order to successfully cast an in-person ballot, including the costs associated with identifying and traveling to a polling place. In order to investigate how these costs affect voter turnout, we introduce two quasi-experimental designs that can be used to study how the political participation of registered voters is affected by differences in the relative distance that registrants must travel to their assigned Election Day polling place and whether their polling place remains at the same location as in a previous election. Our designs make comparisons of registrants who live on the same residential block, but are assigned to vote at different polling places. We find that living farther from a polling place and being assigned to a new polling place reduce in-person Election Day voting, but that registrants largely offset for this by casting more early in-person and mail ballots.
    Abstract: Incumbents often seek to wield power in ways that are formally legal but informally proscribed. Why do voters endorse these power grabs? Prior literature focuses on polarization. We propose instead that many voters are majoritarian, in that they view popularly elected leaders' actions as inherently democratic -- even when those actions undermine liberal democracy. We find support for this claim in two original survey experiments, arguing that majoritarians' desire to give wide latitude to elected officials is an important but understudied threat to liberal democracy in the United States.
    Abstract: Legal disputes over laws that require certain forms of identification (ID) to vote mostly focus on the burden placed on people who do not possess ID. We contend that this singular focus ignores the burden that these laws additionally impose on people who do possess ID, but nonetheless cannot access it when voting. To measure this alternative conception of burden, we focus on Michigan, which allows anyone who lacks access to ID to vote after signing an affidavit. A sample of affidavits filed in the 2016 presidential election from a random set of precincts reveals that about 0.45 percent of voters lacked access to ID. Consistent with our broader conception of the burden of voter ID laws, nearly all voters who filed an affidavit were previously issued a still-active state ID. Importantly, we show minority voters were about five times more likely to lack access to ID than White voters. We also present survey evidence suggesting that people who live in states where voters are asked to show ID, as in Michigan, are more likely to incorrectly believe that access to ID is required to vote than people who live in states that do not ask voters to show ID.
    Abstract: Administrative records are increasingly used to identify registered voters who may have moved, with potential movers then sent postcards asking them to confirm their address of registration. It is important to understand how often these registrants did not move, and how often such an error is not corrected by the postcard confirmation process, because uncorrected errors make it more difficult for a registrant to subsequently vote. While federal privacy protections generally prevent researchers from observing the data necessary to estimate these quantities, we are able to study this process in Wisconsin because special poll books, available via public records requests, listed those registrants who were identified as potential movers and did not respond to a subsequent postcard. At least four percent of these registrants cast a ballot at their address of registration, with minority registrants twice as likely as White registrants to do so.
    Abstract: The ability to cast a mail ballot can safeguard the franchise. However, because there are often additional procedural protections to ensure that a ballot cast in person counts, voting by mail can also jeopardize people's ability to cast a recorded vote. An experiment carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates both forces. Philadelphia officials randomly sent 46,960 Philadelphia registrants postcards encouraging them to apply to vote by mail in the lead-up to the June 2020 primary election. While the intervention increased the likelihood a registrant cast a mail ballot by 0.4 percentage points (p = 0.017) -- or 3% -- many of these additional mail ballots counted only because a last-minute policy intervention allowed most mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to count.
    Abstract: We argue that the modern American partisan gender gap|the tendency of men to identify more as Republicans and less as Democrats than women emerged largely because of mass-level ideological party sorting. As the two major U.S. political parties ideologically polarized at the elite level, the public gradually perceived this polarization and better sorted themselves into the parties that matched their policy preferences. Stable preexisting policy differences between men and women caused this sorting to generate the modern U.S. partisan gender gap. Because education is positively associated with awareness of elite party polarization, the partisan gender gap developed earlier and is consistently larger among those with college degrees. We find support for this argument from decades of American National Election Studies data and a new large dataset of decades of pooled individual-level Gallup survey responses..
    Abstract: Beliefs about the incidence of voter fraud inform how people view the trade-off between electoral integrity and voter accessibility. To better inform such beliefs about the rate of double voting, which some allege is prevalent in the United States, we develop and apply a method to estimate how many people voted twice in the 2012 presidential election. We estimate that about 1 in 4,000 voters cast two ballots, although an audit suggests that the true rate may be lower due to small errors in electronic vote records. We corroborate our estimates and extend our analysis using data from a subset of states that share social security numbers, making it easier to quantify who may have voted twice. For this subset of states, we find that one suggested strategy to reduce double voting by removing older registrations could impede approximately 300 legitimate votes for each double vote prevented.
    Abstract: Elected representatives' place of residence can reveal information about their socioeconomic status, their likely social networks, and potential biases in the constituencies they represent. Using data on home addresses we collected from local elections offices, we investigate the geographic distribution of school board candidates', including winners', places of residence across two election cycles for 610 school districts in Ohio. We employ geographic information systems (GIS) to identify census block group and school enrollment zones associated with each candidate's residence. We document differences among block groups and schools with more and less school board representation, including a robust association between the relative affluence of a neighborhood and the likelihood of school board members residing in that area. We find that more citizens from affluent areas run for school board, and because a large proportion of school board elections feature minimal competition, these higher propensities to run explain disparities in representation.
    Abstract: Widespread concern that voter identification laws suppress turnout among racial and ethnic minorities has made empirical evaluations of these laws crucial. But problems with administrative records and survey data impede such evaluations. We replicate and extend Hajnal, Lajevardi and Nielson (2017), which reports that voter ID laws decrease turnout among minorities, using validated turnout data from five national surveys conducted between 2006 and 2014. We show that the results of the paper are a product of data inaccuracies; the presented evidence does not support the stated conclusion; and alternative model specifications produce highly variable results. When errors are corrected, one can recover positive, negative, or null estimates of the effect of voter ID laws on turnout, precluding firm conclusions. We highlight more general problems with available data for research on election administration and we identify more appropriate data sources for research on state voting laws' effects.
    Abstract: Conditioning voting rights on the payment of legal financial obligations (LFOs) may be unconstitutional if there are no exceptions for indigency. Appellate courts, though, generally have upheld felon disenfranchisement laws that withhold voting rights until all fees, fines, and restitution are paid in full. These decisions, however, have been made with limited evidence available about the type, burden, and disparate impact of criminal debt. We address this by detailing who owes LFOs, how much they owe, and for what purpose using representative, statewide samples in Alabama. The median amount of LFOs assessed to discharged felons across all of their criminal convictions is $3,956, more than half of which stems from court fees. As a result, most ex-felons remain disenfranchised after completing their sentence. People who are disproportionately indigent -- those utilizing a public defender and blacks -- are even less likely to be eligible to restore their voting rights.
    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.
    Abstract: How does America's 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.
    Abstract: 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.
    Abstract: 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.
    Abstract: 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-felons’ 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.
    Abstract: 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 candidates’ 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 incumbent’s 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 challenger’s vote share. Our estimates suggest that a ten percentage point increase in the amount of mail sent to a precinct increased the challenger’s 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 boards’ 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 voters’ 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.

Published or Forthcoming Book Chapters

  • Ansolabehere, Stephen, Marc Meredith, and Erik Snowberg.  2011.  Sociotropic Voting and the Media.  In John Aldrich and Kathleen McGraw (Ed.), Improving Public Opinion Surveys: Interdisciplinary Innovation and the American National Election Studies. Princeton University Press.
    Abstract: The literature on economic voting notes that voters' subjective evaluations of the overall state of the economy are correlated with vote choice, whereas personal economic experiences are not. Missing from this literature is a description of how voters acquire information about the general state of the economy, and how that information is used to form perceptions. In order to begin understanding this process, we asked a series of questions on the 2006 ANES Pilot about respondents' perceptions of the average price of gas and the unemployment rate in their home state. In this chapter we analyze both the determinents and political consequences of respondents' percpetions of these economic variables. We find that questions about gas prices and unemployment show divergences in the sources of information about these two economic variables. Information about unemployment rates come from media sources, and are systematically biased by partisan factors. Information about gas prices, in contrast, comes only from everyday experiences. While information about both indicators show effects from demographics, only unemployment rates affect a respondent's political outlook. Moreover, perceptions of unemployment rates can be used to isolate the effect of economics on partisan preferences.