AUBURN – Auburn University’s Center for Governmental Services today released an analysis showing that Alabama’s voting turnout continues to be close to the national average and that adoption of early voting procedures might vault the state into the upper tier of electoral participation. The Auburn University study relies on voting and registration data recently made public by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The newly available data show that 71.6 percent of Alabama’s U.S. citizens who are 18 or older are registered to vote, just ahead of the 71 percent of adults registered nationwide. In the November 2008 election, 62.4 percent of Alabama citizens 18 or older voted, slightly below the national average of 63.6 percent.
Prior Census Bureau reports show that Alabama’s turnout in 2006 was a little above the national average and just below the U.S. average in 2004. Census Bureau election survey documents, part of the Bureau’s Current Population Survey series, are available online at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting.html.
Detailed turnout statistics from the latest November 2008 reporting show that voting was considerably higher among females than males (66.2 percent compared to 58.2 percent). There were no statistically significant disparities in turnout by race, comparing whites, blacks and Asians.
Age-related differences in the Census data account for the most dramatic variations in turnout. Citizens 55 to 64 years of age were almost 40 percent more likely to vote in 2008 than those who were 18 to 24 years of age. Turnout increases steadily among successively older age categories up to age 64, then drops off slightly among the eldest citizens.
“Prior research into the social determinants of voting has discovered that senior turnout drops off most among those who lose a spouse and are living alone,” said Auburn University elections researcher David Hill. “Simply being elderly does not discourage participation so long as there are two or more persons in a household.”
The latest census study did not report household composition, so it was not possible for Auburn analysts to comprehensively evaluate the causes for roll-off in Alabama’s senior turnout.
For a link to U.S. Census Bureau data showing voter turnout by age in November of 2008 for Alabama citizens 18 years of age and older, go to http://wireeagle.auburn.edu/multimedia/ask_alabama_table.pdf.
Unlike 31 other states that offer some broad-based form of early voting, Alabama permits absentee voting only by those with a documented excuse. In 2006, for example, almost 98 percent of Alabama’s electorate voted on Election Day. Only a small percentage qualified for the absentee exception. Nationwide, a growing number of states allow early balloting, weeks before Election Day. During 2006, in more than a dozen states – notably Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington – in excess of 20 percent of mid-term election ballots were cast before Election Day, either by mail or by walking in to early voting centers.
“Several states that encourage early voting are benefitting in terms of voter turnout,” said Don-Terry Veal, director of the Center for Governmental Services. “At some point, Alabama might want to adopt this policy. When you see that bordering states like Florida and Tennessee have as many as one-in-three voters casting a ballot before Election Day, you see the potential for Alabama to benefit, reducing massive lines at the polls like we witnessed in the November 2008 election, and offering busy people the convenience of voting during the weeks leading up to Election Day.”
A committee of the Alabama House of Representatives approved a measure by a 9-2 vote in February 2009 permitting “no excuse” absentee voting, one version of early voting. But the measure didn’t advance before the legislative session adjourned. Concerns about preventing ballot fraud have been raised by some opponents of early voting.
The Center for Governmental Services, a unit of Auburn University Outreach, provides research, consulting and training to government agencies, not-for-profit associations and private sector clients.