Should there be early voting?

Early voting has begun in the 2012 election and some people, like our friend Matt Lewis, seem to think that’s a bad thing. Being opposed to extended voting opportunities is an idea which immediately sets off alarms for me, but it’s worth a moment to examine it as election day approaches.

Matt’s responding to an NBC News story which proclaims that nearly half the nation is already voting. Of course, that figure seems to include absentee ballots, which are not technically “early voting” since they won’t be recorded until election day. Also, there are plenty of people (especially our troops serving overseas) who have no other access to the ballot, so I would hope people aren’t protesting that.

But Matt is more focused on the places where the polls open days – if not weeks – in advance and in person voting is taking place. Follow the link for the full explanation of each, but here are the five points he’s making.

1. It doesn’t work
2. Voters are casting ballots before they have all the information
3. The cost — both to the taxpayer and the campaigns
4. Ballot integrity
5. Community

Item number one isn’t even worth a lengthy debate, in my opinion. The study in question relies on torturing the data with so many vague and glossy “variables” to arrive at a number – rather than just counting the number of votes cast – that it becomes a very murky soup. And the basic premise – that having more days with the ballots open somehow hinders voters – is counterintuitive on its face. They do make a point about it being “harder for the campaigns” to organize their get out the vote strategy, but that’s the problem of the campaigns, not the voters.

A part of me wants to sympathize with Matt on item number two, but this still comes down to a matter of personal responsibility. Something can always happen later. When do you get in on buying a new stock? On the first day or after it’s had time to ripen? Plus, these elections last so long now that you’ve doubtless got all the information you’re looking for prior to the final fifteen seconds before midnight on Monday. You pick when to vote and you live with your choice.

As to number four, ballot integrity, I have to scoff. Matt argues that most early voting is done by mail, “opening the door” to mischief of various sorts. Oregon and Washington vote exclusively by mail and somehow the specter of angry spouses throwing out votes has failed to materialize.

And… community? Do any of you get together for tailgate parties with your friends on election day and hang out in the parking lot of the precinct voting location? I stop off on the way to or back from work. By myself. Knowing you voted is reward enough, no matter when or how you did it.

But the biggest issue I have with this ties in to Matt’s third point. (You thought I forgot number 3, didn’t you?) The cost? That’s a decision made by the voters of the state. And so are the rules and methods of voting. The citizens of each state make those choices by way of their elected representatives and it’s really not up to the rest of us to decide it for them. And yes, that includes how much of their taxpayer money they want to spend on it.

It may certainly be the more rare exception than the rule, but plenty of us know that certain jobs have you picking up on a moment’s notice and flying out of town for work. This can happen over election day. You might also have a family commitment or any number of other things come up which will keep you away from the polls. I simply don’t see why a larger period of time to vote is “a bad thing” for anyone if that’s what the state decides to do.