The Journal of Politics


Engaging the Unengaged Voter: Vote Centers and Voter Turnout

Robert M. Steina1 and Greg Vonnahmea1

a1 Rice University


Previous election reforms designed to increase turnout have often made voting more convenient for frequent voters without significantly increasing turnout among infrequent voters. A recent innovation—Election Day vote centers—provides an alternative means of motivating electoral participation among infrequent voters. Election Day vote centers are nonprecinct-based locations for voting on Election Day. The sites are fewer in number than precinct-voting stations, centrally located to major population centers (rather than distributed among many residential locations), and rely on county-wide voter registration databases accessed by electronic voting machines. Voters in the voting jurisdiction (usually a county) are provided ballots appropriate to their voter registration address. It is thought that the use of voting centers on Election Day will increase voter turnout by reducing the cost and/or inconvenience associated with voting at traditional precinct locations. Since 2003 voters in Larimer County, CO have balloted at one of 32 vote centers. Precinct voting in Larimer ended in 2003. To test the efficacy of Election Day vote centers, we have collected individual vote histories on voters in Larimer and a control county (i.e., Weld, CO) that used precinct voting on Election Day for the years 1992–2004. We find significant evidence to support the hypothesis that Election Day vote centers increase voter turnout generally, and among infrequent voters in particular.

(Received February 28 2007)

(Accepted July 22 2007)


Robert M. Stein is Lena Goldman Fox professor of political science, Rice University, Houston, TX 77251. Greg Vonnahme is a graduate student in political science, Rice University, Houston, TX 77251.