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Early voting is a good thing

I do not understand the point of this article at all.

Time was when early voting amounted to a handful of absentee ballots, sent in by the elderly, infirm and conscientious after attesting they would not be able to go to the polls on Election Day. Today it’s open to everyone and accounts for almost half the votes cast in Texas. A few decades from now, as most states adopt it, the early ballot is likely to be all that most of the American electorate really knows.

In last week’s national election, more than a third of voters are estimated to have cast their ballots before Election Day. And that figure is suppressed by several large states that do not yet allow it except for traditional absentee ballots. Among the states that do, more than half of the votes came early in 2008, a number that should be even greater this year when returns are finalized.

Some see this as the sad loss of a meaningful tradition. In Pennsylvania, still a holdout for custom over convenience, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal lamented the trend as unsettling. The newspaper called Election Day a “national rite, an act of citizenship that engages all of us in a shared mission and purpose.” Showing up at the polls, it claimed, brings “a certain sense of community” as people stand together to demonstrate their commitment to democracy.

Harvard University government professor Dennis Thompson goes further, arguing that “electoral simultaneity” bolsters the democratic foundation of the country.

“If citizens have only information they would have had if they were voting at the same time, the value of each citizen’s choice is no greater than that of any other citizen,” Thompson wrote in an oft-cited 2008 treatise against early voting. “When citizens go to the polls on the same day, publicly participating in a common experience of civic engagement, they demonstrate their willingness to contribute to the democratic process on equal terms.”


Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, an expert on American voting and politics, said he is concerned that people might end up regretting an early decision, especially if late-breaking news – shocking comments about rape, say – change perceptions of a candidate. Daily developments also can have a disproportionate influence, he said, as in 2008 when votes for John McCain went up on days when the stock market did well. But there is an even bigger concern for Stein: cost.

“Two things have come out – it costs more to run an election that has early voting along with Election Day voting. And early voting drives up the cost of campaigns,” said Stein, who also consults with counties on election matters. “Research shows that it is 23 percent more expensive to the (political) campaigns in early voting states.”

Let me list everything I can think of that’s wrong with all this.

– We already lament the lack of participation in our elections. Well, it turns out that a lot of people who don’t vote don’t vote because they’re out of town, don’t have the time, or have no transportation. How many more people would be in those boats if there were only one day – a weekday, no less – to vote?

– This year we’ve seen CEOs trying to exert control over how their employees vote (when they’re not busy using them as props). How much easier will it be for them to do that if there’s only one day of voting?

– Look at that chart above. Note how many of the states that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy have Election Day-only voting. Voting went on in those states mostly without incident because Sandy had the grace to hit early enough before Election Day to give sufficient time to recover from it. What if Sandy had hit the day before, or the day of, the election? How many people would have been disenfranchised by that? With early voting, everyone would have had the time to vote before the storm hit. It’s a very bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket.

– As for the increased cost: So what? Seriously, this it the foundation of our democracy we’re talking about. If we whine that it’s too expensive to provide a robust electoral process, what does that say about us as a society?

– Finally, I suppose it’s possible that sometime after voting begins the revelation that Candidate Smith spends his weekends shagging sheep may hit the news and cause some early voters to regret their decision. Again I say, so what? As long as we allow absentee voting, which I might remind you is how people serving active duty in the military now vote, that possibility exists whether we have in person early voting or not. The benefit of early voting vastly outweighs the risk of this theoretical possibility.

To me, what we need is more early voting, not less. I’d like to see a second weekend of early voting in Texas, and I’d like to see Travis County’s system of allowing people to vote at any precinct location on Election Day become the norm everywhere. Voting should be easy and convenient. I don’t understand or accept any argument otherwise.

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  1. WS says:

    I think that very well might have happened in that HISD race a couple of years where the one guy sent out an outrageously homophobic mailer near the end of early voting. He lost Election Day but won thanks to Early Voting….don’t remember the name.

  2. WS says:

    I will say though, that there needs to be a limit. I’ve been in races where the mail in ballots go out close to two months before the election. For smaller races, particularly when you have an insurgent, running against an incumbent or against an entrenched establishment machine (like the Harris County GOP), who is investing heavily in voter contact and outreach, having the ballots go out that early is absolutely devastating. For that reason I don’t think anybody should casting a ballot more than two weeks before the election.

  3. WS – You’re thinking of HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez. It’s a fair point, though the irony is he probably would have won easily rather than by a whisker if he’d never sent that mailer. I don’t have a good answer for that, I just don’t think that the damage done by these tactics and candidates (who still often wind up losing) outweighs the benefit of early voting.

    I do agree that there needs to be reasonable time limits. Where that line needs to be drawn is something that will be open to debate.

  4. Howard says:

    Kuff, I agree with your early voting sentiments, and would add that the first week’s voting hours should be extended to 7 AM to 7 PM like the second week’s hours are. Perhaps the hours should even be extended to 9 or 10 PM.

    Almost 80% more people voted early than did voters on election day. Can you imagine what the lines would be like if there was no early voting and everyone went back to voting on one Election Day? If the lines were as long as I’m picturing, I’ll bet you there would be a fair amount of people who wouldn’t bother to vote at all.

  5. mollusk says:

    I’ll pile on, too. I would have voted early, except I forgot that you can’t on the weekend immediately before – candidly, as a result mostly of procrastination, covered by the shagging sheep argument, the validity of which has now been blown out a bit by this week’s revelations about goofy judgment on the part of the bloomin’ head of the CIA…which demonstrates that icky stuff sometimes doesn’t come out until after election day.

    And I STILL think there ought be some sort of cash register tape, one for me and one for the county.

  6. Max says:

    I don’t mind the 2-month early send-out of absentee ballots that WS is worrying about … if you’re living abroad, sometimes the mail takes that long to reach you.

  7. Gary says:

    This is absurd. You might have buyer’s remorse after voting early; but you might also have it after voting on Election Day. Mine lasted for several years, but that had to do with my vote in the 2008 Democratic Primary, and early voting had nothing to do with it. In practice, it is more difficult to plan some last-minute bit of mischief if it has to work over a matter of weeks during which the victim has time to react (which is why Democrats work so hard to get their votes out early). I think early voting tends to make elections cleaner overall.

  8. WS says:

    Max, I think t’s perfectly fine in that case. I’m thinking mainly about the seniors in the count.
    And it isn’t buyer’s remorse, it’s just the reality that down ballot races won’t be able to contact many voters who vote that early, introduce themselves and make a case. The earlier the vote the better it is for incumbents and establishments.

  9. […] presume the people who object to early voting are sputtering incoherently about now. There’s a fundamental tradeoff in the computing world […]