Early voting makes it more difficult for candidates to engage in serious debates about serious issues, and goodness knows we could use more of that. It puts a premium on strategy and tactics at the expense of an informed electorate and of democratic choices that reflect the contemporaneous opinions of the citizenry. We know from the volatility in the polls that voters’ opinions can change dramatically over the course of two or three weeks. Given Romney’s momentum, it’s not surprising that the Obama campaign has been particularly enthusiastic about early voting.
Early voting and vote by mail have another cost. They make Election Day less and less an important civic occasion and more and more just the day on which the votes are counted and the winners projected within minutes of the closing of the polls — which actually doesn’t happen in Oregon and Washington because there are no polls. What was once a solemn occasion celebrating the sovereignty of the people and the all-important right to vote has been reduced to maybe 30 minutes of waiting for the talking heads to declare a winner, followed by endless chatter about why things turned out as they did.
Increasingly, our embrace of early voting — warts and all — is part of the reason things turn out the way they do.
Jim Huffman is the dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School, the co-founder of Northwest Free Press and a member of the Hoover Institution’s De Nault Task Force on Property Rights, Freedom and Prosperity.