New Study Finds That States with Same Day Voter Registration Have Higher Black and Latinx Turnout

Black and Latinx turnout is between 2-17 percentage points higher in states with SDR compared to similar states without it

AMHERST, Mass. – While existing research on the impact of Same Day Registration (SDR) has generally examined overall turnout rates, a new policy brief published by researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the think tank Demos has found that the policy may play a role in reducing barriers to voting and boosting turnout for Black and Latinx Americans.

jesse rhodes
Jesse Rhodes

Among the 23 states and Washington, D.C., examined by UMass Amherst’s Jesse Rhodes and Demos’ Laura Williamson, those that have implemented SDR – the policy that allows voters to register and vote on the same day during early voting or on election day – often experience higher turnout among both Black voters and Latinx voters than do similarly situated states without SDR.

Williamson and Rhodes found that Black voter turnout is on average 2-17 percentage points higher in states with SDR than in non-SDR states, and that Latinx voters in SDR states turned out at rates that were on average 0.1-17.5 percentage points higher than Latinx voters in similar non-SDR states they studied.

“Although we cannot estimate a precise causal effect of implementation of SDR, these findings suggest that SDR is a critical reform that should be implemented in every state,” they write. “Especially as part of a larger package of voter registrations reforms, including policies such as Automatic Voter Registration and Online Voter Registration, SDR can help scrub our political system of racist exclusions and advance a democracy in which all communities can participate.”

Rhodes, a professor of political science at UMass Amherst and associate director of the UMass Poll, and Williamson, senior policy analyst at Demos, lay out a series of recommendations for designing SDR policies that work well for Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian American and other communities of color, including:

  • Offering SDR each day of an extended early voting period and on Election Day itself at all polling places in a jurisdiction.
  • Making SDR mandatory statewide, not optional at the discretion of local elections officials, so voters’ ability to access SDR does not vary across the state and is not subject to the priorities of local officials.
  • Configuring polling places into two separate areas, one for voter registration and one for voting.
  • Allowing voters who registered same day to vote a regular ballot for all offices and questions on the ballot.

“Voter registration was designed in part to make voting more difficult for Black and brown communities, and it has always served as an obstacle to voting for people of color,” Williamson and Rhodes write. “The findings in this report make an important contribution to the existing research on SDR by suggesting that, in addition to boosting turnout across all voters, the policy may play an important role in raising turnout for Black and Latinx voters in particular.”

In addition to making voting more convenient, ensuring that registration rolls are more complete, and facilitating voter participation in Black, Latinx and other communities of color, Williamson and Rhodes note that SDR is also widely popular among the American people, with some polls showing as many as 61% of respondents saying that all citizens should be allowed to register and vote on the same day.

“As the 361 (and counting) anti-voter bills introduced to date during the 2021 state legislative sessions make clear, the forces hostile to an inclusive democracy are once again on the march, and swift action is needed to ensure voting is accessible to all communities,” Williamson and Rhodes write. “The unfettered availability of SDR during an extended early voting period and on Election Day – coupled with robust public education about the opportunity to register and vote on the same day – will go a long way toward minimizing the barriers registration has always presented and advancing a more inclusive, multiracial democracy.”

The complete policy brief, “Same Day Registration: How Registration Reform Can Boost Turnout Among Black and Latinx Voters,” is available online from Demos.