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Post Partisan
Posted at 06:27 PM ET, 10/18/2012

In defense of early (and easy) voting

The Weekly Standard attempts to add some intellectual firepower to limitations on voting with an argument by Robert Kelner that any type of early voting is problematic because it fractures the electorate (via Kilgore):

With early voting, there is no longer a single electorate. There are many electorates. There is the electorate that voted in September just after the conventions, the electorate that voted in October before the debates, and then the more informed electorate that voted on Election Day. The vote count on election eve is no longer a snapshot in time reflecting our collective judgment. It is more like a “moving average” — an aggregation of what different Americans thought at different times based on different information.

To be sure, this isn’t a crazy argument — although some of his points, such as the claim that candidates don’t have sufficient time to campaign, do strike me as implausible; what, April through August isn’t enough? Nor am I convinced at all by the possibility that something new and disqualifying will be uncovered about a candidate late in October but that he or she will be elected anyway thanks to early voting. After all, there’s always the chance that something new will be discovered after the election but before the electoral college vote; no one finds that problematic.

But overall, yes, there’s a real argument that an election is supposed to capture the views of the public at one particular time. I just don’t think that argument is particularly strong. After all, we all decide whom to support at different times, with many having decided to vote for either Barack Obama, or whoever the Republicans would nominate to oppose him, long before the Iowa caucuses in January. So why is there something particularly democratic about registering those decisions on the same day?

I think reasonable people can disagree about that. What’s clear, however, is that the traditional answer in the United States has been to oppose the kind of “single electorate” that Kelner advocates. That’s evident in the basic system of separated institutions sharing powers, with different electorates for president, House and Senate. It’s clear, too, with the different lengths of the terms for those three bodies and, in particular, the constitutionally mandated separate election day for different classes of senators. It’s also clear from American history; it took quite a while for everyone to converge on a common election day.

So, no, I don’t think the case for single-day voting is particularly strong. I’m far more concerned about finding mechanisms for making voting as inclusive as possible; that’s the democratic value that the United States has traditionally done a poor job with that I’d like to see improved. I’m not sure whether early voting really does that — the big reforms that would help would be universal voter registration and making sure that more citizens are eligible to vote — but to the extent that states believe various forms of early voting help, I think it’s great that they try them.

By  |  06:27 PM ET, 10/18/2012

 
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