The current trend toward early voting--from several weeks to several days in advance--is a recent trend that began to pick up speed in 2000. This year fully one-third of all voters are expected to cast their votes before Election Day.
Several aspects of early voting present us with reminders of how voting occurred in the past. During colonial times elections took place on the village green and voting was done viva voce. While this was sometimes rapidly conducted by "groupings" or a "show of hands," at other times, each voter was expected to step forward and announce how he was casting his vote. The crowd would react with cheers or boos. Because an ongoing tally of the votes was known by all in attendance (and this type of voting was certainly time-consuming), people in the crowd who were disappointed in the direction the vote was going would often ride off on horseback to locate other voters to come to the village green to help their cause.
As I hear the evening reports about what percentage of that day's early voters in a particular state are Democrats and what percentage Republicans, it reminds me of the colonists who had the time to look for additional voters. For several nights, reporters in various states have noted that thus far the Democrats were outnumbering the Republicans. Like their colonial forefathers, I would expect Republicans in those areas are out "rounding up" more voters. Forewarned, forearmed.
In the long run, however, this trend toward early voting seems destined for a bright future. While a good number of voters have feared that early votes "don't count," this is an irrational fear. A prolonged voting period should actually offer an opportunity to spot abuses taking place at the polls and rectify them before Election Day has passed. In addition, the extended voting period allows voters to choose when they vote. This greater convenience should serve to increase voter participation.
With thirty states now offering some form of early voting, perhaps it's time for all fifty to take a look at this sort of arrangement. In 2004, only 55 percent of registered voters actually cast ballots. Any measures that can be taken that will increase this percentage strengthen us by increasing each individual's investment in deciding our shared future.