In America’s never-ending search for convenience over substance, voters in most states can now avoid lines on Election Day and cast their votes days, if not weeks, before a campaign has concluded. And while the two major parties are adjusting their electoral tactics to take into account early voting, as a nation we should really ask ourselves if this is a good idea.
Early voting has fundamentally changed how elections are conducted and campaigns are run, not just in my home state of Georgia, but across the country. At least a third of voters, up from 25 percent in 2008, are expected to take advantage of laws in 31 states that allow them to cast their ballot as far out as a month before a general election.
Of course, the emphasis on early voting brings a greater need for funding to run ads, organize grassroots activists and “get out the vote” efforts, which are now as important in late September and early October as they are in the final week of a campaign. We are seeing before our eyes that an election can now be won or lost before the traditional time that the closing ads of a campaign have aired or the last direct mail pieces have dropped in voters’ mailboxes.
Perhaps no better example of this new dynamic was the 2008 presidential election where Democrats and Barack Obama’s campaign were able to take advantage of early voting opportunities. Polls show that Obama carried as much as an 18 point margin over John McCain among these voters.
To their credit, Republicans have taken advantage of the anger that we have seen from voters, and the GOP is poised to gain at least the 40 seats necessary to take control of the House of Representatives. Indeed, many races in states with early voting may already be over, as voters associated with the tea party movement, an enthusiastic conservative base and discontent independents have led the charge against many vulnerable incumbents.
Just like military leaders have had to adjust strategy and tactics to modern, urban warfare, political consultants, campaign managers and candidates are learning to adapt to the modern techniques of this new age in which media and the actual process of voting is managed by electronic processes much more so than in past generations.
Still, there is something unsettling about people casting their votes a month or two weeks before a campaign is concluded; and perhaps before the candidate for whom they cast their vote made a serious blunder or staked out a position with which the early voter disagrees. People are opting for the greater convenience of voting early rather than taking the time to wait until a campaign is actually concluded, and they are in the best position to case an informed vote; one that can come only by waiting to vote until the actual end of the campaign. If you ask me, early voting is a dumb idea.