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Abstract

An overlooked context for citizen deliberation occurs when voters discuss their ballots with others while completing them at home. Voting by mail (or “absentee voting”) creates an opportunity for informal deliberation in the midst of exercising a basic form of citizen power. We examined this understudied context by blending prior theory with qualitative observations of dyadic and small-group absentee voter discussions to identify common features of such talk, which range from cynical joking and speculation on election outcomes to observing norms of politeness and engaging in heated argument. The hypothesized antecedents and consequences of those behaviors were examined in a survey of 295 Washington and Oregon voters’ recollections of their ballot discussions. Results showed that pro-deliberative features of discussion were reported most often by voters with more formal education and political knowledge. Contrary to hypotheses, the strength of voters’ partisan identities bore no relation to deliberative behavior. Finally, the presence of key discussion features had many of the expected effects on voters’ confidence in ballot choices and their respect for the electoral process, particularly for those voters with less political knowledge.

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