As NBC News reports, if you count early voting and absentee voting, close to half the nation can vote starting today.
This is a problem for several reasons.
1. It doesn’t work. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated that early voting can actually depress turnout. In fairness, they believe same-day registration (which I would oppose for ballot integrity reasons) is a much more important key to increasing voter participation.
2. Voters are casting ballots before they have all the information.
In October, there will be three important presidential debates. But Americans who vote today can’t take their votes back if they learn some disqualifying information between now and November 6. And even if the candidates don’t introduce new information or commit some sort of gaffe, what if the world changes? (Four years ago today, for example, John McCain had not yet suspended his campaign to focus on the financial crisis.)
Bottom line: Voting this early is really “premature” voting — and should be treated with the same disdain as other “premature” acts.
3. The cost — both to the taxpayer and the campaigns. In my home state of Maryland (where early voting is still relatively new), it cost taxpayers $2.6 million, without increasing turnout. But the cost to campaigns might be even greater.
We frequently lament how much politicians spend to get elected, but one factor driving the increased cost of campaigns is that politicians have to spend a tremendous amount of time and resources finding out when various voters will actually cast their ballots. That’s because a decent percentage of “undecided” voters wait until the last minute to make up their minds. And so, campaigns wisely attempt to contact them in the last 72-hours prior to their voting. The goal is to contact them just before they vote.
But how do you know when the last minute is for a voter who could potentially vote at any time? (After all, it doesn’t do you any good if a voters sees your mail piece or TV ad the day after they voted.)
The advent of early voting — and the increase in absentee voting — creates logistical and financial headaches that require time, staff, and additional cost to manage. Aside from the traditional get-out-the-vote push that campaigns have always executed just prior to Election Day, they must now also incorporate absentee ballot “chase” programs — and look to past voting records in order to predict which voters are most likely to vote early again. And voters who have voted early must be scrubbed from mailing lists (so campaigns don’t waste more money on them). There is no doubt this increases the cost of campaigns.
4. Ballot integrity. Unlike early voting, absentee voting is typically done by mail, which opens the door for voter fraud, spouses who are members of opposing parties “losing” ballots, etc. It happens.
5. Community. Early voting may be more convenient, but having done both, I can tell you there is something about voting on Election Day that feels special. There is something patriotic and communitarian about it. And I think we lose something when we don’t do it together.