I just voted via absentee ballot in my home state of Michigan, a state that’s behind the times with no early voting privilege available. This should change.
I’ll be in Cyprus on Election Day, yet I could not vote early, at least not easily. I had to drive to the local township clerk’s office, secure an absentee ballot by affirming that I’d be out of the community the entire Election Day, and vote on a ballot to be submitted by 8:00 pm November 2.
Now some could argue what’s the difference? I got to vote, and if an early voting option had been available I’d have simply followed a different path to the same end. Fair enough. But there’s still certain criteria under which one must qualify to be allowed an absentee ballot. Fortunately I fit the out-of-community item. But what if I simply wanted to vote early for a variety of other legitimate but not approved reasons? Then I’d have been disenfranchised.
Some 32 states and the District of Columbia permit early voting, generally 10 to 14 days prior to an election. “No excuse” absentee voting is offered in 30 states.
The first absentee ballots were made available to Civil War soldiers in 1864. State approval of “no excuse” absentee voting and early voting options has grown steadily in the past twenty years.
Early voting is convenient—typically no long lines. It’s generally quicker. The electorate likes it: 15% voted early in the 2000 election, 20% in 2004, and about 25% in 2006. In the 2008 presidential election, about one-third of all votes cast were submitted via some non-traditional voting format, i.e. something other than standing in a line on Election Day in order to cast a ballot.
Some people argue early voting results in partisan bias. When it was first tried, maybe, in that only certain kinds of voters tended to participate. Now, though, as early voting has become more common, a more diverse cross-section of the public vote early. No clear partisan advantage can be consistently demonstrated.
Some argue early voting increases state election costs, and people argue on both sides of the encourages/discourages turnout debate. Yet states have found ways to keep costs contained and turnout results tend to follow known electoral patterns regardless of when people vote.
There clearly is, though, one downside of voting early. Thankfully it’s rare, but it’s still possible. It’s not a disadvantage for local, state, or federal governments necessarily, but it could be a bummer for the one who voted early.
What if you vote, say, 12 days before the election and something untoward develops in the campaign on the last day or two before Election Day? What if this development significantly changed your attitude toward the candidate for whom you voted? What if you now wished you’d voted differently, but your vote’s already been counted?
In 2000, just four days before the national presidential election, a DUI story broke about then-Governor and candidate George W. Bush. This story changed some peoples’ minds about Mr. Bush. How many is difficult to determine, and he did, after a few months and a court case, win the election anyway. But it nearly sank his campaign.
Still, as long as voter fraud can be prevented, and it has been thus far, states should adopt an early voting option. If the point is to get people to take their democratic responsibilities and privileges seriously and to vote, why not make it as easy for them as possible?
Early voting seems to be an option whose time has come. I vote for adoption of early voting in the State of Michigan.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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