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Early Voting

Early voting is the practice of allowing voters to cast ballots several days or weeks before election day. Some advocate early voting as a way of reducing long lines at polls, and of making voting more convenient. Some oppose it because of the additional expense and administrative headaches. This is an issue in the state of Missouri, where the Secretary of State has included early voting in his bundle of election reform recommendations.

For

"Making Every Vote Count" - Election reform recommendations of Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt.

Against

"Casting about for ideas, we hit some duds" - Judy Taylor, Election Director for the Board of Election Commissioners of St. Louis County, Missouri, explains her opposition to early voting in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (03/11/2001).

My Opinion

I feel that neither of the above address all the pros and cons, or offer a compromise. The following is an op/ed peice I wrote and submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch but was not published...



The Early Voting Dilemma

Thanks to the presidential election debacle, our voting systems and election laws are finally getting the scrutiny they deserve. But to the apparent dismay of many election officials, some of the reform proposals include provisions for early voting, which is the practice of allowing voters to cast ballots several days or weeks before election day. They have good reasons to oppose early voting - but there are equally good reasons not to. I believe a good compromise is possible.

Many election officials - such as the Southwest Missouri County Clerks Association, and the Board of Election Commissioners of St. Louis County - have voiced opposition to early voting because it is more expensive, harder to administer and provides more opportunity for abuse. For example, one of the administrative problems would be in finding alternate polling locations, since most polling locations are at churches and civic centers that are not available on weekends. They also point out that there is no evidence that early voting increases voter turnout.

These are valid arguments that should be carefully weighed. It's easy to sit around a talk about change but the election officials are the ones who have to somehow make it all work, and I don't think we fully appreciate all the issues they have to deal with. It would be wasteful not to leverage the wealth of knowledge and experience of local election officials.

On the other hand, election boards exist to serve the voters and not vice versa. Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, whose sweeping recommendations include a call for an 11-day early voting period ending the Friday before the general election, favors early voting as a way of increasing the convenience of voting, and also reducing long lines at polling places. Voters want, and deserve, more choices of when to vote, and to spend less time waiting in line to vote.

Another benefit of early voting is that it could provide election officials with additional time to resolve problems. Last November in St. Louis, for example, hundreds of people with registration problems stood in line for hours at the city election board. A judge ordered the polls to stay open late but many were still unable to vote. This controversy could have been avoided, and everyone could have voted in a timely and orderly manner, if we had more than one day to vote.

I believe another potential benefit of early voting is to facilitate a nationwide, uniform poll closing time. This has been frequently mentioned in Congress and elsewhere lately, and with good reason: for too long now, our elections have been compromised by the news media who declare "winners" while the polls are still open. This has to stop. I can only imagine how those on the west coast - and especially in Alaska and Hawaii - feel about elections being called before their state can finish voting.

The challenge of a uniform poll closing is that even if you keep the polls open until 10 pm on the east coast, that's only 5 pm in Hawaii. That's just too early - unless the polls are open more than one day, providing all voters ample opportunity to cast their ballots.

I believe these are compelling reasons to adopt some form of early voting. And I think the drawbacks can be minimized. My suggestion is to open the polls just one day early. That is, make both Monday and Tuesday election days, giving us twice as long to vote. And for those who need or want to vote even earlier, I also advocate "no-fault" absentee voting; that is, voters should not be required to have a "legal" reason for not being able to vote at the polls. I believe this would be a relatively simple and safe way to achieve the objectives of early voting: increased convenience, reduced lines, more time to resolve problems, and the potential to fairly set a nation-wide uniform poll closing time.


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Last updated 03/11/2001