Date of Award

Fall 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Political Science, PhD

Program

School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jean Reith Schroedel

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Melissa Rogers

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Paul Peretz

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© Copyright Joseph Dietrich, 2021. All rights reserved

Abstract

One of the central questions facing the political process is why some people regularly vote and others do not. There is abundant evidence to show two things about voting behavior. One is that amongst those who are registered to vote, whether measured by income or race, the less advantaged have not used their power by voting more often or even consistently. The other is that these same people are less likely to register in the first place. Both raise the question of why those with potentially the most to gain from voting choose not to use the tools of the democratic system, for example, to preserve or expand needed social welfare programs or to reform public institutions that have traditionally locked them out. One answer to this question is that the process of voting has costs in the form of physical, time, and economic barriers to participation and the less advantaged are less able to bear those costs. Voting by mail (VBM) is an attempt at reducing those costs by removing them almost entirely. Ballots are mailed and can be returned for free. The only cost associated with VBM is the modest amount of time required to complete the ballot. This removal of barriers to participation should reduce the disparity in voting between these two groups. It then follows that if this was the main reason for the disparities in voting then the percentage of disadvantaged persons who vote should increase with the use of a VBM voting system. The research presented here finds that this has not happened and that, with regard to race, minority voters have not consistently increased their participation in voting despite the long-term presence of voting by mail in the three states included in the research. Previous research on the institution of voting by mail, which is examined in depth, sought to determine whether or not VBM has had the expected result of increasing the relative participation, including among minority groups, has produced mixed results. At best, one can say it is inconclusive in identifying long term advantages for increased participation. As such, the new research presented in this report looks closely at the effects of introducing voting by mail on minority populations in three western states (Washington, Oregon, and Colorado). Each introduced statewide voting by mail in the last 20 years, making them perfect cases for trying to assess its effects on participation by reducing the costs of voting. To start, the research uses GIS map data to look at whether areas of dense African American or Latinx population in the three states under consideration coincide with precincts displaying a high percentage of voter turnout across federal elections from 2008 through 2018. After demonstrating that these areas actually evince low percentages of voter turnout, the paper considers why this might be occurring using a survey of otherwise eligible voters who have not registered to vote. The intention of the survey is to see what factors underlay their choice to not register or participate in voting, assess the effect of reducing the cost of voting, and discover what might move them to participate in voting. Several possibilities regarding the lack of voting participation emerged from the survey. Many noted that they lack the knowledge of how to register and vote or they lack knowledge regarding candidates or politics in general. Most respondents noted that their issues fell within one of three categories: a lack of interest, a lack of trust in the system or government itself, or actively not liking politics or the participants. The results indicate that some non-participating voters may be persuaded to become voters through education and get out the vote (GOTV) efforts. Others, the vast majority of respondents, demonstrate a personal, individual psychological disconnection from the political process. They are therefore likely unrecoverable as voters.

Share

COinS