Early voting allows voters to cast their votes prior to Election Day.
Early voting can take place remotely, such as postal voting, or in person, usually in designated early voting polling stations. The availability and time periods for early voting vary between jurisdictions and type of election.
Early voting was designed to increase voter participation, and it offers relief to voters who dread the long lines at polling stations on Election Day.
Coined as “no excuse voting”, early voting has gained ground over the years. But many people argue against it, saying it soils the democratic process.
In 2012, nearly one-third of ballots were cast early. This more than doubles those cast in 2000. Today, 32 states allow early voting, which on average, begins 19 days before Election Day.
For all its time-saving advantages, many people believe early voting threatens the election process. For example, look at the Clinton and Trump campaigns. With two weeks remaining, and Wikileaks revealing emails that tarnish the Hillary Clinton, an “October or November surprise” could alter the way a citizen would vote at the last second. Early voting eliminates that opportunity.
Another downside: With the 24/7 news cycle being what it is today, the media pumps out countless stories about the results of early voting. For example, right now the liberal media is pushing the narrative that Democrats are showing up to vote for Clinton in numbers greater than Republicans are for Trump. Whether this is true or false, this sort of reporting could discourage voters from showing up on Election Day because they feel the election is already won or lost, and thus they believe their vote means nothing.
Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis are professors at Northwestern University School of Law, where they teach constitutional law. Here is what they wrote in an article for Politico Magazine.
The 2008 election, for example, could have ended differently had many voters cast their ballots before the massive economic crisis that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers that September. Similarly, candidates often seek to delay the release of embarrassing information, or the implementation of difficult policies, until after votes have been cast. A wave of votes starting months before the election date makes this easier.
Early voting not only limits the set of information available to voters; to the extent that it decreases the importance of debates, it might also systematically help incumbents and quasi-incumbents like vice presidents, who generally have the advantage of having been in the public eye longer.
More fundamentally, early voting changes what it means to vote. It is well known that voters can change their minds — polls always go up and down during a campaign season. A single Election Day creates a focal point that gives solemnity and relevance to the state of popular opinion at a particular moment in time; on a single day, we all have to come down on one side or the other. But if the word “election” comes to mean casting votes over a period of months, it will elide the difference between elections and polls. People will be able to vote when the mood strikes them — after seeing an inflammatory ad, for example. Voting then becomes an incoherent summing of how various individuals feel at a series of moments, not how the nation feels at a particular moment. This weakens civic cohesiveness, and it threatens to substitute raw preferences and momentary opinion for rational deliberation. Of course, those eager to cast early will be the most ideological — but these are precisely the voters who would benefit most from taking in the full back and forth of the campaign.
Moreover, there are other ways of achieving some of the benefits of early voting, such as old-fashioned absentee ballots or setting up more polling places. Even a limited few-days-early voting period could convey most of the advantages of the practice while limiting the most severe democratic costs.
Early voting is a matter of degree: Even Election “Day” lets people cast ballots at different times. But at the moment, there is no upper bound at all on the growing practice, and the president’s commission made no mention of such an option. With the group’s report opening a new round of discussion over voting policy, now is the time to consider whether the “quiet revolution” of early voting has gone too far.
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