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Brookings Institution Filer Voter Experiment

Brookings Senior Fellow Vanessa Williamson has begun a two-year policy research project through which she will collaborate with local partners to scale her 2018 experiment on the civic engagement impact of offering voter registration opportunities during the tax filing process.

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Vanessa Williamson
Senior Fellow, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center
Vanessa Williamson is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings and a Senior Fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. She studies the politics of redistribution, with a focus on attitudes about taxation. She is the author of "Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes." Williamson previously served as the Policy Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She received her Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from Harvard University.
Roger Scott
Roger executes projects with branding and storytelling at the forefront. For the past 15 years, he’s created content that’s helped Nike and Boeing bring to life visions and digital strategies for their brands; he’s imagined customer journeys for Jawbone, LVMH, and Intel; and he’s designed product experiences for Sony and Nest.

The impact of your support

During the 2020 tax and election cycles, Brookings will work with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to offer their clients the chance to register to vote while filing their taxes. We’ll work with 24 VITA sites in 10 states to simplify the voter registration process and send subsequent postcards to remind participants of their intention to vote and key details about their local Election Day and polling place. After the elections, Brookings will evaluate the program and its impact on voter registration and participation. We’ll then summarize and share our findings widely with the public, policymakers, civil society groups, and tax policy experts and administrators.

Support for this project will enable Brookings to offer a practical, evidence-based way to increase civic engagement and to foster a national discussion on the importance of enabling more Americans to exercise their right to choose our representative government.

Why this work is important

Recent research confirms the comparatively low voter turnout in the U.S., in large part because barriers to voting discourage voter registration. In recent years, many states have begun attempting to ease the voter registration process (even moving to automatic voter registration) while others have adopted policies likely to remove a substantial number of eligible registered voters from the rolls.

In 2018, Brookings research offered reason for optimism when its first Filer Voter experiment increased registration by roughly 10% and turnout by rates that beat state averages. Scaling this research would confirm whether a fast, simple and low-cost bureaucratic tweak can engage more American voters and make our government more democratic and representative.

Our track record

In the spring of 2018, the Filer Voter experiment was conducted via a randomized controlled trial in two major U.S. cities: Cleveland and Dallas. In this study, the Filer Voter program doubled the likelihood of unregistered tax filers registering to vote. The results offer a roadmap for nonprofit organizations, for-profit preparers and state officials who wish to harness the tax filing process to substantially increase civic participation in their communities. Replicated at all VITA sites nationally, this would lead about 115,000 unregistered eligible voters to register to vote, including 63,000 people who would not otherwise register.

Impact Updates
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