Analysis

Washington Study Shows That Easy Registration Motivates Voters

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Correction: A prior version of the dispatch incorrectly described the control group. The control group did not receive a postcard.

The Washington secretary of state’s office has released a study demonstrating that focused messages to targeted groups significantly increased voter registration rates. The state undertook the effort because, as a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, it is required to notify eligible but unregistered individuals, identified by the ERIC system, about the opportunity to register and vote.

The mailings, sent to prospective voters, experimented with different messages to stimulate registration and had an impressive effect, especially given that they were sent before an off-year election when no presidential or statewide candidates were on the ballot.

Eligible voters received postcards in September 2013 with one of two messages intended to stimulate registration:

  • Online treatment—This postcard was designed to illustrate the ease of online registration with the message “3 minutes. Click. Done. Register to vote online.”
  • Community treatment—This postcard emphasized the social norm of voting with the message “76% of people like you register to vote” and invited recipients to “join the voting community.”
  • Control group—The control group received no content from the Office of the Secretary of State.

The postcards were printed in three versions—English; English and Spanish; and English, Chinese, and Vietnamese—to comply with language requirements of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act in certain jurisdictions.

The online and community messages resulted in significantly higher rates of registration compared with the control group’s 3.5 percent:

  • The community treatment generated a 34 percent increase in the registration rate.
  • The online treatment yielded a 46 percent increase.

The study was conducted by Christopher B. Mann, Ph.D. and Lindsay Prior, with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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