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Will Obama Reduce the Chance That You Are Called for Jury Duty?—A Commentary by Ian Ayres ’86

The following commentary was published in The New York Times on December 1, 2008.

Will Obama Reduce the Chance That You Are Called for Jury Duty?
By Ian Ayres ’86

One of the changes that the “Yes We Can” movement has already wrought is a substantial increase in voter registration — particularly in swing states. In Virginia, for example, the number of registered voters increased by almost 10 percent.

Since voter-registration lists are also used to construct juror lists, a possible benefit of this registration boost is a reduction in the number of times the rest of Virginians are called for jury duty.

But the Obama bump is likely too muted. The construction of the juror rolls varies by state. States use a variety of databases, including not just voter registration lists, but utility bills, driver’s licenses, property tax rolls, welfare rolls, phone directories, and school lists. New York relies on “registered voters, licensed drivers, and the state’s mailing list of taxpayers.” So registering to vote does not necessarily mean that you are adding your name to your state’s juror rolls. (This is probably a good thing. It would be even harder to get citizens to overcome the voter’s paradox if registration subjected them to being called for jury duty.)

Any bump is also likely to be delayed, as the juror lists in many states are only updated periodically. Virginia tells us that newly registered voters would only hit the jury lists of the Commonwealth in 2010.