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Americans Need an Election Period, Not an Election Day

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There's controversy again over early voting. This time, it is in Ohio.

The legislature there passed a law cutting off in-person early voting three days before Election Day, except for members of the military, who can vote up to 6 p.m. the Monday before Election Day.

The fact that an exception was made for military personnel by the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature has resulted in a lawsuit by President Obama and the Democrats -- and yet another debate about when early, in-person voting should occur.

Early voting has become very common, thanks to a growing trend of state Legislatures and election officials nationwide aiming to make voting more convenient.

Despite this, there's been no talk about permanently altering how we vote by eliminating our archaic Election Day practices and instead allowing 21st-century Americans to vote by various means over a uniform period of time. It used to be that you simply voted at a precinct on Election Day, but in the last few election cycles, early, in-person voting and the use of mailed absentee ballots have become viable alternatives for voters.

In Florida's recent Republican primary, as many as 40 percent of voters, or 600,000 people, took advantage of early voting instead of turning out to the precincts. In the last presidential election, more than 30 percent of voters nationwide voted early; in 10 states, more than half of the total votes were cast early.

In fact, early voters are such a significant group now that how and when they cast their ballots is crucial in terms of winning the 2012 presidential election, particularly for Democratic strategists, who favor early voting to drive their "Get Out the Vote" efforts.

Republicans have traditionally centered their "Get Out the Vote" early voting strategy on pushing their voters to mail in absentee ballots and opposing any efforts to extend in-person early voting at polls.

With many election experts forecasting a very close tally of popular votes , driving or preventing early voting can assure a critical 1 or 2 percent addition to the margin of victory, especially in crucial swing states such as Ohio and Florida.

Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee recently filed a lawsuit alleging that the revised Ohio law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because it provides extra voting time for military personnel only.

"Without early voting in these last three days before Election Day, tens of thousands of citizens who would have otherwise exercised their right to vote during this time period, including the plaintiffs' members and supporters, may not be able to participate in future elections at all," the campaign's complaint states.

These arguments are nothing new. Remember the political storm when former Gov. Charlie Crist extended the hours of early voting in Florida because thousands were left in line after early voting polls closed at 6 p.m.? Obama may have won the state because of that decision.

Ohio Republicans passed a law last year imposing the three-day window before Election Day for early, in-person voting, contending that the extra time to vote immediately before Election Day was too costly and cumbersome for local governments and that the longer time encouraged voter fraud and abuse.

True, limiting early, in-person voting to all but military personnel so close to Election Day does run counter to the growing trend early voting in the United States.

But the Ohio lawsuit is also the latest reminder that we need to permanently transform our outdated tradition of voting on a single Election Day and instead hold an Election Week, or even an Election Month, during which we can vote at the polls, by mail or even by the click of a mouse or mobile device.

Published in the Sun Sentinel on August 9, 2012

Steven Kurlander is a communications strategist and columnist for the Sun Sentinel, FloridaVoices.com and HuffingtonPost.com. Visit Kurly's Kommentary and email him at kurly@stevenkurlander.com.

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