I am very grateful to Dean Burnham for his labor in checking out a number of “plausible rival hypotheses” that I proposed some years ago might account for the bundle of changes in American voting statistics he had first described in his seminal 1965 paper. I had pointed out these possibilities with some vigor, since if they could be shown to have empirical merit, they would seem to put a rather different light on those historical changes, relative to the interpretations Burnham originally provided.
I now read the current paper as indicating that for the areas covered, changes in registration practices do appear to have affected turnout adversely, following one of our original rival hypotheses. It also suggests, however, that this registration change does not begin to account for all of the decline in turnout that occurred around 1900, particularly in states like Pennsylvania. It goes on to imply that some other familiar factors affecting turnout, such as party competition, also contributed to that change. In effect, the turnout decline not accounted for by structural change seems greatest where the realignment of 1896 moved states from competitive to rather noncompetitive status (the more frequent case); but states moved by the same events from noncompetitive into competitive status, like Missouri and, in fact, numerous other upper midwestern states, do not show the same pattern as Pennsylvania.
All this is well and good, particularly as Burnham in his penultimate paragraph sets aside the 1965 conspiratorial interpretation of the change that had originally prompted our own brief inquiries as to probable causes.