American Political Science Review

What Do I Need to Vote? Bureaucratic Discretion and Discrimination by Local Election Officials

ARIEL R. WHITEa1 c1, NOAH L. NATHANa2 c1 and JULIE K. FALLERa3 c1

a1 Harvard University

a2 Harvard University

a3 Harvard University

Abstract

Do street-level bureaucrats discriminate in the services they provide to constituents? We use a field experiment to measure differential information provision about voting by local election administrators in the United States. We contact over 7,000 election officials in 48 states who are responsible for providing information to voters and implementing voter ID laws. We find that officials provide different information to potential voters of different putative ethnicities. Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of services by local bureaucrats more generally.

Correspondence

c1 Ariel R. White (arwhite@fas.harvard.edu), Noah L. Nathan (nlnathan@fas.harvard.edu), Julie K. Faller (jfaller@fas.harvard.edu) are Ph.D. Candidates, Department of Government, Harvard University.

Footnotes

  The authors contributed equally to this project. Thanks to David Doherty, David Broockman, Daniel Butler, Ryan Enos, Claudine Gay, Nahomi Ichino, Robert Schub, Dustin Tingley, Kris-Stella Trump, the anonymous reviewers, and participants in Government 2008 and the American Politics Research Workshop at Harvard for helpful comments. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2013 APSA annual meeting in Chicago. David Kimball and Martha Kropf generously shared data on the partisanship of election officials, Matthew Disler, Tian Kisch, and Yena Oh provided research assistance, and Ryan Enos and Dustin Tingley provided the funding for this project. All errors remain our own. We have been financially supported by a Harvard University grant from the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy (White) and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (Nathan). This research was approved by Harvard University’s Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research. Replication data will be made available upon publication at thedata.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/nlnathan.

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