Early voting has started in many states and will run until Election Day. Some people speculate that tens of millions of people will have voted before Election Day. Is that really such a good idea?
On the one hand, yes. Early voting takes pressure off Election Day; it gives an easier opportunity for many people to vote when they can and it is convenient; it eliminates some waiting on Election Day.
On the other hand, no. Some people may have voted before late-breaking events or news occur which give some voters a desire to change their vote. In some states that may be possible, but it is fraught with complications, bother and problems. And, there is the risk, as on Election Day when West Coast voting may be affected by early East Coast results, that the estimating of early voting affects Election Day voting.
Evidently the vast preponderance of early voters are die hard believers in the candidate they voted for and are less likely than most voters to want to change their minds.
But then there are circumstances such as the race for governor in Maine in 2010 when there was an Independent in the race with a Democrat and Republican. The Independent had started the year with 1 percent name recognition but a lifetime of terrific experience. By early October that year the Independent was nearing 30 percent, along with the Republican and the Democrat, and in the few weeks before the election a lot of Democrats saw that their party's candidate was a loser and a shift started toward the Independent.
By Election Day it ended up approximately Republican 38 percent, Independent 37 percent and Democrat about 20 percent, with the balance for stragglers. In the meanwhile, apparently close to 10 percent had voted early, and it is widely speculated in Maine and elsewhere that if the trend away from the Democrat had been reflected on Election Day (without early voting) the Independent would most likely have won by several percentage points. The result was that Maine elected a knuckleheaded Tea Party governor who is giving most Mainers serious regrets.
Of course, that kind of situation could occur in almost any combination of ways and circumstances, so it isn't an argument for or against any party or any independent in any given place or time.
Many of the recent elections for president, senators, and congresspersons, etc. have been by quite close margins -- close enough to have been subject to a radical change, if early voting was followed by a change sufficient to cause a number of folks to regret and want to change their votes.
Still, the idea of making voting easier and simpler has a lot of appeal and support for valid reasons.
That said, there are at least two other ways to try to achieve the same objective:
- Hold a regular election over a weekend plus a Monday and not allow any campaigning after the prior Friday, or
- Have campaigning stop two Fridays before the first Tuesday in November and allow people to vote early during all of those days, ending on a regular Election Day.
The Maine 2010 example should give many wise heads real pause for further thought.
It will be interesting to see how this year's presidential election turns out with the possibility that tens of millions of early votes could still have been subject to last minute changes of mind.