Braconnier, C, Dormagen, J. and V. Pons (2017): “Voter Registration Costs and Disenfranchisement: Experimental Evidence from France”, American Political Science Review. Online First DOI: 10.1017/S000305541700003X.
The paper by Braconnier, Dormagen, and Pons provides original experimental evidence on the impact of voter registration procedures on enrollment and turnout in national-level elections. The authors answer a broad set of questions related to the effects of administrative requirements for voting. Amongst others, they analyze whether a lack of information or high bureaucratic barriers hinder voter registration, to what extent enrollment increases if bureaucratic procedures are simplified, or whether voter registration costs influence the participation of various societal groups such as immigrant or young citizens differently. The experiment was conducted in France before the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections and canvassers (such as NGOs, students, and political parties) contacted households that were likely to hold high numbers of unregistered voters. The residents of these apartments either received information about the enrollment process or assistance with home registration. Overall, the study includes over 20.000 households, and the areas where they are located received a common, randomly assigned treatment (or control group status). In consequence, studying differences in the level of enrollment and participation of the habitants allows for conclusion about the effects of voters’ registration costs. In this manner, the authors show that lowering administrative obstacles for voting increases enrollment as well as participation and that both, a low level of information but also the bureaucratic barriers lead citizens to abstain from registration.
The paper examines registration costs from various ankles and – in particular in the light of its well-designed experimental setting – helps political scientists to better understand their implications. A promising avenue for future research might be to study whether certain groups of voters are more perceptive to different types of costs related to registration. Young people and immigrants might be more likely to abstain due to a lack of information, while elderly or women might be reluctant to engage into a complicated bureaucratic process. If states are willing to reform the enrollment procedures to enhance the normative aim of equal participation of all societal groups, such distinct effects would have profound implications: states would necessarily have to conduct both types of measures – those providing information to unregistered voters and those reducing administrative barriers.
Author: Corinna Kroeber in May 2017