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Early voting may be too much of a good thing

Georgia GOP voters deciding their governor candidate have been able to cast ballots in the race for 10 days by the time this paper comes out. And they still have until July 20th to vote early before the option of showing up in person to vote on July 24th.

It’s great idea that Georgia and other states do whatever they can to make voting convenient. But it’s unclear that the efforts have paid off in any substantive gains in turnout and there are solid reasons so much early voting time is detrimental to elections. 

Georgia political magazine James in their May/June issue had a well-researched article questioning whether the excessively-long early voting hurts turnout. The article noted, “While voters may find early voting more convenient, turnout data show that early voting may actually decrease turnout, not increase it.”

Making voting so easy, like picking up a gallon of milk, makes it seems trivial. In the words of Revolutionary-era pamphleteer Thomas Paine, “that we obtain too easily we esteem to lightly.” 

The James article by Hans von Spakovsky reported that Texas was the first state to adopt early voting in 1988. Thirty-seven states now offer some form of early voting.

A study from American University looked at the 2008 presidential election. The 2008 turnout was up 2.4 percent over the 2004 election. But seven of the 13 states with the highest turnouts had no form of early voting and 10 of 12 states that saw a decline in participation had some form of early voting. The magazine notes a similar study in 2013 from the University of Wisconsin came to the same conclusion -- states offering convenience voting don’t see much, if any, participation benefit. 

In Pickens County, early voting totals are generally below election day totals. In the spring primary, 3,160 waited until election day, while 1,917 cast early ballots. The highest number to vote on any single early voting day was 243 (the last day of early voting), while several days saw only about 85 people voting early during the primary. Our local election office says in a presidential election, more people will cast early ballots (almost equal to the number of election day voters), possibly out of fear of lines on election day. It should be noted that there are 12 regular polling places open on election day and only one early voting location, meaning the lines can be longer for early voting than on election day, when we are spread out across the county.

Aside from the cost of running the early polls, there are real problems we see in the long voting period. The extra days throw off mobilization attempts by candidates and public groups. When do you run your best ads or most urgent appeal?  When do you rally your troops? At the start of early voting or right before election day? If you wait on election day, then a sizeable chunk of ballots have already been cast and you miss those voters entirely. 

On the other hand, the extended voting time makes the election drag on too long and voter apathy increases as people tire of hearing the campaign news/ads every day from the start of early voting to election day. The constant cycle may leave voters ignoring campaign appeals entirely and fewer voters participating out of a backlash to the intended convenience.

A related problem is when news develops between the time early ballots are cast and the final count. Once a vote is cast it is cast. You can’t change it later if something really earth-shattering comes to light. An example cited by James magazine was in 2016, GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio dropped out of the race a week before the Arizona primary. He still finished third as many people had already cast ballots.

The James article concluded by quoting the American University poll saying the lack of voter participation is a real problem but “it’s not procedural, it’s motivational.”

We do recognize that many people need a couple of chances to get to the polls but surely a week of early voting, including the Saturday prior to election, is sufficient.

 

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