One More Excellent Reason to Vote

We know that turnout is one of the featured discussion points of the 2014 election.  I am working on a research project using every single individual voter record from Washington state.  These records give you names, addresses, birthdates, registration dates, and more.  Jeff Bezos’s voting history in Washington became a public point of discussion around the time of his purchase of the Washington Post.   Do most people understand that their individual voting history is public and, in most cases, easily obtainable?

My inactive voting record from North Carolina is easily accessible if you know my birthdate and county of residence.  I moved from North Carolina in 2007, you can quickly find this record:

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You could shame or reward anyone with this information, immediately, if the recipient actually wanted to know. If a prospective employer cares about a person’s publicly available credit history, why not consider a person’s turnout history?

There is an enormous literature on the relationship between social pressure and voter turnout, and we have strong experiment-based evidence that social pressure can build an incentive to vote (see, for starters, Gerber Green Larimer 2008). Voting is a time honored free ridership problem, and if you believe the best solution to free ridership is a selective cost or benefit (or even the small prospect of a selective cost), wouldn’t awareness about the easy availability, and the persistence, of the information change the decision for many people?

Suppose you worry about your personal Uber customer rating, either because you think its availability is invasive or its a helpful way to reveal your good behavior. Why wouldn’t you worry about your turnout history?

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