Our country’s founding fathers would be aghast at the idea of advance voting, which is beginning or has already begun in 31 states constituting 54 percent of the U.S. population. It can be more aptly called “lazy voting”. Unlike the process to obtain an absentee ballot, there is no paperwork to fill out. And unlike an absentee voter, one doesn’t have to give any reason for voting early.
Some states allow early voting at their county election registration offices. Other states are encouraging it in places ranging from shopping malls and senior citizens’ centers to even grocery stores.
So far, it hard to say if any political party is the clear beneficiary. During the July party primaries in my home state of Georgia, 42,118 early voters cast a Democrat ballot; 33,741 opted for Republican ones. Georgia Democrat Chairman Bobby Kahn crowed at the time: “Anything that makes it easier to vote helps Democrats more.” Interesting. Is that why so many Democrats fight state voter ID requirements and turn a blind eye to non-citizen voting? Is that why Democrats in key battleground states like Ohio and Missouri argue that “provisional” early votes be counted in any polling place a voter pleases, rather than at one’s official home precinct?
As more states cave in to early voting and more people find out about it, candidates have retooled strategies. Direct mail must now hit targeted households far sooner. Internet e-mails and expensive media ad buys have to be stretched out to influence early birds. Beginning in August, for example, voters in Michigan received taped telephone messages from President George W. Bush urging an “early vote”. What a radical change from just a decade ago, when most Americans faithfully trooped to some 200,000 polling places on primary or general election day. Only those with a valid excuse ranging from illnesses and disabilities to a business trip voted absentee.
Proponents prattle that advance voting will help increase turnout. Yet it hasn’t in any state.
Experts like Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate warn that absentee ballots have long been the biggest source of attempts to manipulate results, so early voting will only increase chances for voter fraud. But there are other compelling reasons why this growing trend undermines the integrity of our already-strained electoral system.
* Early voters don’t have the same information about the candidates as do those who vote on Nov. 2. They aren’t able to evaluate last-minute issues, gaffes or revelations. It is akin to part of a jury being allowed to vote early and then told to go home before all the facts and evidence are heard.
* July 4th and Election Day have been the two major times of the year that brought the nation together for a common civic activity. No more. In fact, Oregon has taken the extreme step of conducting elections entirely by mail and the mass mailing of ballots began Oct. 4.
* Early voting often helps incumbent office-holders. It obviously takes more money and more organization to deal with a longer voting period, so the better-funded incumbent will usually enjoy the political edge.
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes argued the “best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Free speech, of course, is essential to finding truth as Americans prepare to elect everyone from local candidates to the president. Now, with “lazy voting,” we are confronted with the choice between getting campaign messages out to as many in the “marketplace” as possible before voting ends, or damaging democracy by having people vote long before they are able to fully evaluate all utterances and actions of candidates or their surrogates.
Phil Kent is an Atlanta public relations consultant and author of The Dark Side of Liberalism (Harbor House)