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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Early Voting: Bane of Democracy?

Early voting is fine for those who can't make the polls on Election Day. In a year of intense voter interest, early voting may also avert the meltdown that some worry could happen if darn near everybody did show up to vote on Election Day.

Nonetheless, my wife and I prefer to vote on Election Day itself. There is something important in going to the polls with our neighbors, being part of a special event on a special day. The ceremony and public spectacle set it apart, and rightly so, from going to the courthouse to renew one's drivers license. When we vote together, on a single day dedicated to that purpose, we get a better sense of voting as something we do together as a community. (To understand the psychology here, see the great Northern Exposure episode "Democracy in America" from February 24, 1992.)

Dr. Blanchard is even less of a fan of early voting. His critique, as you might expect, is more rigorous and hardnosed than ours. The good professor worries that early voting is an abdication of one's duty, bailing out before having heard all of the arguments that the candidates have to make.

I'm tempted to say my conservative friend is wishing everyone would hold off voting until Election Day just to give McCain time to cry socialism! a few more times or find some other magic argument that could save the GOP from total defeat. But Blanchard gives the issue fair treatment, even pointing out that Obama supporters and McCain supporters are equally likely to vote early. The poll numbers showing Obama ahead in early ballots simply reflect the fact that there are more Obama supporters than McCain supporters throughout the electorate.

I have some sympathy for Blanchard's argument. There may well be people who voted two or three weeks ago who, based on new information they've learned since then, already wish they had voted the other way. Of course, there are lots of people now who wish they'd voted differently for President in 2000.

I wonder: is there a substantive difference between the person who chooses to vote on October 15, without the benefit of the last three weeks of arguments, attack ads, and stock market dipsy-doodles and the person who votes on Election Day but "decided" back in January that he would vote Republican or Democrat just like Grampaw always did and thus ignores all of the campaign news and analysis? Just something to ponder over your raisin bran....


  1. Interesting post. However, even the negative ads are informative.

    Both candidates have been attacking.

    Perhaps it's time to assess why Obama's attacks stick while McCain's ricochet.

  2. Voting on election day is nice, but some folks don't like waiting in line or have other places they have to be. On the Initiatives, unless you're out of the loop, you probably have your mind made up several weeks out. Candidate races are the same, although I don't think anyone votes anymore like "grandpaw" used to vote. If people vote early, it shows they are confident in their choices. However, recent personal issues with one candidate in a local race caused us to wish we had voted differently when we absentee voted a week ago, so you do have a point.

  3. Voting for Barack Obama was a pleasure and historical moment I did not want to risk missing if something prevented me from going on election day. If I croak tomorrow, my vote is in. John Hess

  4. Yah, but, when does one truly ever have all the information they really need? Yourself included, those voting on Nov. 4 may find out something later on during the Presidency that they didn't know about the candidate when they voted on the actual election day. So, Blanchard's argument is a moot point.

  5. Absentee voters who croak before election day and that info is available via obituary or other source will cast votes that are NOT counted in SD.

    Much was made on SD Pub Radio about a woman in Rapid City who wanted to vote for Hillary in the primary. She did, but she died before the primary election and her vote was tossed out.

    Seemed right to me and SOS Nelson made some good points.

    Probably relatively rare events in SD elections, and only marginally related to getting more information to vote.

    Don't expect to get much information out of SD Newspaper endorsements. Most appear to have been written by a committee...In fact, the couple I have seen so far appear to have been written by the Republican National Committee.

  6. Does anyone thing we will find out any "Final Results" within the first week of voting? There are so many people voting early, that those votes don't get counted until AFTER the ballots that were taken on Nov 4. I will be sitting on pins and needles.

  7. Lots of cerebral snacks here, Cory. I voted on October 23. One might ask, "Why not wait until November 4? After all, the lines can't be that long in Deadwood." True enough.

    I'm one of those sorts who likes to get things "out of the way early." When I had an infection last year and got the bills from the hospital, I paid them off so fast that it flummoxed their computer system and they double-billed me. My editor will tell you that I have at times submitted manuscripts so early that it threw their publication schedule out of whack. It's a neurosis with me -- the evil twin of the procrastination disease from which I at one time suffered and that actually caused me to flunk the last course I needed to graduate from the University of Minnesota in 1976.

    Psychologists would have a good time analyzing my reasons for having voted early (at taxpayer expense, I suppose); and it would be all the more fascinating for them were I to toss in the zinger about having an absolute aversion to waiting in lines. It could be the outgrowth of having spent so much of my life in those squirming masses of hyperpopulation now affixed in the minds of our enemies as "soft targets." At the DMV in South Miami, Florida, for example, the waiting time was so long that you could show up at 8:00 a.m., wait all day, and get sent home with nothing to show for it but a swollen set of varicose veins in your head. That sort of thing was enough to make a hermit out of anybody, especially a natural-born loner like me.

    To make a long rant short: I wanted to get in and out of the polling place as fast as possible so I could go back to my cave and write nonsense like this. It worked: In the door at 1645 UTC, out the same door at 1653 UTC.

    Only problem: What if I find out tomorrow that Sarah Palin was a member of the Interplanetary Male-Bashers League, Not Inc. until just last month?

  8. We voted early too because we were going to be gone on Nov 4.

    I don't think that people should be allowed to register and vote the same day, however. There should be a certain cutoff date before any election to be registered to vote.

    And there should definitely be voter ID to vote. This protects the integrity of all voters. I can't see how anyone can disagree with this.

  9. Forgot one thing. Voting early doesn't mean we automatically vote the way Grandpaw did. In fact, I vote absolutely opposite of my Dem parents and even other members of my family. This is becase I DO listen to the news etc and realize the old Dem party of my forebearers is gone. My values and hopes for this country more closely align with Reps. On the other hand, some of my family who still toe the Dem line are the ones who don't really pay attention to the election campaigning and news.

  10. You got the point, Anon 7:40: you, an early voter, pay more attention to the issues and cast a more informed vote (which is good for democracy) than the family members you cite who don't pay attention to the news, whenever they show up to vote.

    And Stan, your early vote doesn't make me think you are inimical to democracy. You still voted wrong (aaaaarrrggghhh! ;-) ), but your comments have regularly demonstrated a healthy thoughtfulness that more voters (and commenters) should emulate.


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