Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Endorse Early Voting

After work yesterday I stopped by my city’s office building and voted. There were about 20 other people there at the same time, a number I found rather impressive. I exercised my civic voting duty two weeks prior to Election Day, and from the comments of the election judges at the site, a record number are likewise voting early.

I personally enjoy early voting, having done it a number of times previously. The last time I voted on Election Day in a major election, I had to wait in line 45 minutes. Yesterday I waited less than five minutes total. I waited in line a couple of minutes to get my ID verified and then sign in. I waited another minute or so for a booth to open up so that I could vote.

I have heard the criticisms of early voting. I think they have some validity. But on the whole, I think that making early voting available is wonderful. It increases convenience, reduces lines at the polls on Election Day, and increases opportunities for citizens to get out and vote.

There are some valid concerns about early voting increasing voter fraud. This isn’t such a big problem when people go to an actual polling place to vote, as I did. But it is a problem with mail-in ballots. In some cases this problem has been severe. Not only is mail-in voting quite expensive, it can also produce long wait times in determining the outcomes of elections because they have to wait long enough for the ballots mailed on Election Day to arrive, each mailed in ballot must be verified as belonging to a properly registered voter, and it must be ensured that each voter’s vote is counted only once.

There are likely things that could be done to reduce fraud problems with mail-in voting, but that would make it even more expensive. Perhaps it is best to restrict mail-in voting to those that are physically unable to present themselves at a polling place during early voting or on Election Day, such as those that are temporarily living abroad.

I have heard several times that early voting detracts from the sense of community spirit that used to surround Election Day. Pointing to voter apathy, some have even suggested that we make Election Day a national holiday. While community spirit is nice when you can get it, the main goal is to get people politically involved. Increasing voter convenience helps in this regard.

Also, every time we produce a new national holiday, it results in another excuse for retailers to bombard us with inane ads about faux sales events. Not only does adding holidays cost employers money, but most people that get the day off end up recreating rather than doing anything about what the holiday was supposed to be about. A national election holiday might even result in fewer people voting.

Some would like to make voting more exclusive by actually making it more difficult to vote. The argument seems to be that so many ignorant people are voting that we need to restrict the privilege of voting to those that are motivated enough to overcome obstacles to exercise that right

Frankly, I think this is pure poppycock. Even the ignorant are citizens and should be able to cast their ignorant votes. Some will argue that the idiots are already overrepresented in politics. While the rest of us have to live with the results of elections partially influenced by ignorant voters, that is part of living in a democratic republic.

Another concern is that something might change during the early vote period that could change your mind. If you had already voted early, it would be too late to change your vote. There is clearly some risk with this, but it’s really not much different than if something were to happen the day after Election Day that made you wish you’d voted differently.

I think that for the politically informed, the risk of casting an early vote that would be regretted within two weeks is no higher than if they were to vote on Election Day. I mean, I’ve studied the candidates and the issues enough. If I don’t know by this point how I should vote, I can’t see how two more weeks is going to make a difference.

For the politically uninformed that vote early, I don’t see how voting a few days later is going to improve their vote. I remember years ago seeing an older lady on the news being interviewed as she came out of a polling place. She said that she had voted for Jimmy Carter because she liked peanut butter. Two more weeks simply isn’t going to help people like that. And, as I alluded to earlier, even idiots deserve representation.

I think early voting is a wonderful convenience, as long as it’s properly handled. Thanks to early voting, I hope to never stand in a long line on Election Day again.


Alice said...

I voted today. The line at the bountiful library was longer than the line at my polling place around 10am in previous elections.

I think I waited about 15 minutes.

My kids liked the voting machines.

Anonymous said...

"Some would like to make voting more exclusive by actually making it more difficult to vote. The argument seems to be that so many ignorant people are voting that we need to restrict the privilege of voting to those that are motivated enough to overcome obstacles to exercise that right."

As someone who has argued for making voting more exclusive I wanted to make a different argument. I know that the one you articulated is held by some people but my argument is more simple - I think that making it a bit more difficult to vote might actually encourage people to take greater ownership of their votes. My fear is that the current system promotes the practice of casting throwaway votes just to feel that you have done your civic duty. I would like to see obstacles that anyone could overcome regardless of their level of intelligence.

I concede the possibility that it may be impossible to set a bar high enough to increase the value of voting and low enough to allow anyone to clear the bar - in which case it is better to keep the bar lower.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I doubt that making voting more exclusing would incentivize better civic involvement. It would likely have the opposite effect.

Consider, for example, one of the most exclusive things in Utah: LDS Temple admittance. While I'm not arguing that it should be any less stringent (as there is a higher purpose in this), its exclusivity likely does not increse Temple attendance rates. In fact, it likely does the opposite.

But voting is not like Temple attendance. In a democratic society, we cannot and should not restrict voting to only the pure or those we deem most worthy.

One line of thought that has been present since our nation's founding is that the common people are capable of governing themselves and of choosing their leaders from among themselves.

I do not see any way that we could successfully require people to reach some arbitrary standard of political knowledge before permitting them to vote. Everything we have ever done that restricts voting, regardless of how well intentioned it might have been, has ultimately proven to unacceptably infringe on people's rights.