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“Happy Birthday: You Get to Vote!”

April 26, 2019

  • Ellen Seljan

The MIT Election Data and Science Lab has awarded Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Ellen Seljan and her collaborator Dr. Paul Gronke at Reed College a MEDSL grant to support their project, “Happy Birthday: You Get to Vote!” This project responds to their interest in encouraging new approaches to the scientific study of elections and election reform. Dr. Seljan’s project investigates the causal impact of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a reform that automatically registers to vote eligible individuals who transact with proscribed government agencies (e.g. the DMV), on voter turnout. This study will focus specifically on five states that have implemented AVR: California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, and Vermont. Dr. Seljan’s study will achieve a precise estimate of the causal effect of AVR on voter turnout by leveraging an aberration that affects an individual’s likelihood of being affected by AVR in each state: one’s birthday.  In each of the states examined, one’s driver’s license expires precisely one’s birthday, leading those whose birthdays fall earlier in the calendar year to have greater AVR rates at the time of the November general election relative to those whose birthdays fall in November and December. This exogenous variation is leveraged to estimate the effect of AVR on voter turnout. Their results will be of interest to election administrators and state policy makers. This MEDSL grant will allow Dr. Seljan and her team to purchase the necessary data sets for analysis of multiple election cycles, which will range between $800 and $3,300.

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