Voting prior to Election Day has long been a fact of life, but the numbers of people using "absentee ballots" seems to have jumped considerably since the 2008 election. On one level that's fine, but there's something a little disturbing about the trend, in our view.
The potential for abuse is the obvious issue, where "get out the vote" drives target certain groups of individuals - such as the elderly - and subtly manipulate their choices. Then there's the not-so-subtle outright fraud, when ballots are mailed in to town offices from fictitious voters. And the other factor to consider is what if during the final week of the campaign some new piece of information comes out about a candidate that, had it been known earlier, would have affected how voters picked their first choice. Granted, by the end of October, we've all learned more than we probably want to know about the candidates and their at times shifting positions on the issues - but maybe not all we need to know.
An election doesn't need to be a snapshot of the electorate on one given day in early November, but it's interesting to see how early voting on the scale we are apparently experiencing this year affects campaigning. Will one candidate's performance in a much ballyhooed debate really translate into that many different votes, because so many people have already voted, for example? Are all the mega-millions spent on last-minute advertisements really worth it?
If that latter point were the case, we might be inclined to favor wide-open early voting. As it is, we think this is an area that deserves a fresh look after this coming election. It's fine for reasons of convenience when a voter knows they will be unable to get to the polls on Election Day. But casting a ballot shouldn't just be something that's "convenient." It's a citizen's duty, or should be. If early voting boosts the number of people voting, that's a good thing - but we have a sneaking suspicion it doesn't. It may simply make it easier for the 50 percent of the electorate that does bother to vote to do so. It needs a rethink.