Early voting … encourages campaigns to preach to the choir. Normally, it’s Republicans who excel at this. But this year, President Obama has taken the lead. His “war on women” malarkey, his Big Bird and “binders” rhetoric — not to mention Joe Biden’s claim to a largely black audience in August that Mitt Romney’s tax policies will put “y’all in chains” — is designed entirely to get the base to send in their ballots now. Early voting amounts to a subsidy for partisans.
I think mandatory voting is an abomination, and I don’t lose any sleep over the influence partisans have on U.S. elections. But early voting still strikes me as a terrible idea.
Everyone laments the decline in civic commitment in America. “Government is the word we use for the things we all do together,” is a common refrain from liberal reformers in particular. Well, Election Day used to be one of the few things we did do together as a nation. It was a hugely important civic ritual. But the cult of convenience and a knee-jerk faith that voting at home will mean higher voter “turnout” (a somewhat misleading term under the circumstances) led us to downgrade Election Day and replace it with “Last Chance to Vote Day.”
Has the convenience yielded a “better” electorate? It doesn’t seem like it. Has early voting led to increased turnout? Only in very low-turnout local elections, according to John C. Fortier, who wrote a book on early voting. Why not? Because, says Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who studied early voting in his state, early voting is just “a convenience for people who likely would have voted anyway.”
There are lots of reasons to have a single, solitary Election Day, if not on a Tuesday then perhaps a 24-hour period over a weekend. Among the best reasons: Deadlines focus the minds of voters and campaigns alike, and in-person, single-day voting cuts down on the potential for voter fraud.