Early voting reduces turnout?

So says a new academic study by the team at the University of Wisconsin.

The study is blogged about in detail at the Fact Tank at the Pew Center on the States and will undoubtedly spark some reaction.  The takeaway point for anyone interested in elections and turnout is that a simple minded rational choice model of turnout is, by itself, simply insufficient to understand voting behavior.  (This piece cites none of the “classic” turnout articles, nor should it.)

I’ve been critical of the Wisconsin approach in the past for failing to discriminate among different modes of early voting (they code no-excuse absentee and early in-person the same way) and, at least in past work, for relying only on data from 2008.  This study doesn’t address the first issue but does expand the universe to include the 2008 presidential contest, a significant advancement.

The study also demonstrates the value of peer-review.  Peer review is criticized because it is slow and deliberate.  But peer review makes it a lot more likely that scholars get to the right answer.  In this case, I’ve seen this paper through a number of versions (including acting as a reviewer), and the impact of peer review is very clear in the final product.

There are other pieces circulating that purport to address this question, including at least one that I reviewed recently showing an opposite result, controlling for the number of early voting locations in each jurisdiction.  This question is certainly not closed, but this piece is going to stand as an important marker in the field.