In theory, early voting is intended to expand access and increase turnout.Unfortunately, this election is evidence of why that’s one of the problems with the process.
Texas provides 11 additional days to partake in that civic duty and opens early voting two weeks before Election Day. (Polls in Tarrant County and other large areas are even open on Sunday!)
Yes, access is good.
But this year, as if often the case in the modern era, a lot of things in the political landscape changed in the two weeks before Super Tuesday: Mike Bloomberg, new to the fray, had a horrendous first debate performance; Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer all suspended their campaigns; and Joe Biden, floundering and nearly broke after the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, got a huge boost from a commanding victory in the South Carolina primary.
That occurred (funnily enough) the day after early voting in Texas ended.
So, anyone who cast their ballot during the early voting period did so when the primary contest looked a whole lot different than it did on Election Day.
And any vote cast for a candidate who dropped out between the close of early voting and Election Day, arguably didn’t really count.
While it’s certainly possible that some of the 82,160 and the 43,013 votes cast (at the time of writing) for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, respectively, would have been cast regardless of their suspended campaigns (some were cast on Election Day, after all), in a close primary like this one, even a portion of their combined votes could have significantly closed or widened the gap between Biden and runner-up Bernie Sanders.
As momentum shifts often dictate political outcomes, that might have been a game changer.
From a strategic perspective then, early voting — especially in primaries — certainly has its risks.
But there are other valid arguments against early voting, too.
As columnist Jonah Goldberg recently explained, since earlier voting lowers the “price” of electoral participation, it also reduces its value and thus voter quality. That means we get more uninformed and underinformed voters, who may not know anything about the candidates, including whether or not they are still in the race.
He isn’t wrong. But that argument probably won’t fly with folks focused solely on increasing turnout.
One idea supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle is making Election Day a national holiday (or holiday weekend), or in the case of primaries, a state holiday, and it’s worth considering.
Limiting the voting window would allow counties and local parties to devote all of their resources — voting judges, machines, etc. — to a single day (or weekend), perhaps streamlining what feels like a process in constant flux.
Such a remedy would also ensure access without cheapening the vote; voters would still have to make heading to the polls a priority, instead of, say, using their holiday weekend to steal away to the beach.
And it would eliminate the inherent risks of voting two weeks before Election Day when the political world is unrecognizable from the current reality.
Long lines are not good. But casting an early ballot in a swiftly changing political environment can be just as bad.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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