Impact of Clinton’s federal early voting proposal

Hillary Clinton plans to call for an early voting period of at least 20 days in every state, the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan reports. This is not a Democrat’s first foray into the voting wars this election season, but it is Clinton’s first specific policy recommendation about election administration reform. A recent Harvard Law Review note argues that federal early voting legislation may be viable, so we do well to view her announcement today at Texas Southern University as more than just liberal hand-waving.

If Clinton wins the election and Congress passes this legislation, what might be its impact?

Sixteen states already have early voting periods that begin at least 20 days before the election. This change would likely impact these states the least.

Twenty-four states and DC have early voting periods that are shorter than 20 days. Their election codes would need to be changed and they may need to redirect resources into early voting.

Ten states have no early voting at all.  A federal mandate would significantly affect these states.

Would a standard of at least 20 early voting days increase turnout?

The Clinton proposal–at least what we can glean from the pre-release for the speech–leave many details unanswered. For early voting, the devil is very much in the details.

For example, what about weekend voting, notably early voting through the final Sunday before Election Day?

Would legislation mandate a minimum number of hours per day, or across the full 20 day period?

Would there be any formula to require a minimum number of early voting locations, and how would states calculate this formula–by CVAP? geographic dispersion? Commuting patterns?

Prior research shows that these details are critical when determining how much early voting costs and whether different segments of the population use this convenience voting method.

Nonetheless, two points seem clear. First, that if this legislation passes, it would significantly change the importance of early voting across the country, since campaigns would have much greater incentives to focus on the early vote nationwide

Second and related, this would create a uniform early voting period across the United States. Greater uniformity across our hyper-federalized system is not always a good thing, but in this case, it makes it easier for voters to know when to vote and may foster cooperation between election administrators across the states