Phil Andrews, a Democrat, served on the Montgomery County Council from 1998 to 2014 and was the lead sponsor of the county’s public-financing law.
Maryland and D.C. residents soon will be encouraged to do something they shouldn’t: vote early in this year’s general election. Virginians will not be urged to do so because Virginia, wisely, does not allow early voting. Neither does Pennsylvania or Delaware. Unless Maryland and D.C. voters want to limit their ability to cast an informed vote by eliminating their ability to consider relevant late-breaking events and information, they should wait as long as possible before casting their votes. So much that merits consideration by voters can happen in the final days of the many elections on the ballot.
Consider what happened in Montana in 2017. The day before a May special election for the state’s lone U.S. House seat, the Republican nominee, Greg Gianforte, assaulted a reporter (after the election, he pleaded guilty). Gianforte won with 50 percent of the vote. Had many people not voted early in Montana, the assault might have led to a different winner.
Or consider the 2000 presidential election and the impact that the disclosure — during the final days of the campaign — of George W. Bush’s 1976 arrest for driving under the influence seemed to have on Al Gore’s late surge that resulted in the vice president winning the popular vote and almost the electoral vote.
What voters consider pertinent in evaluating candidates varies greatly, but everyone should acknowledge that events could happen between when early votes are cast and Election Day that could cause voters to change their vote. At the least, in states that allow early voting, there should be a way for people who have voted early to change their votes on Election Day, as Wisconsin allows.
Whether a voter regrets voting for a particular candidate as a result of late-breaking information or events, with early voting there is the inherent problem of a substantial percentage of an electorate voting with different information available than the rest of the electorate.
Would we allow some members of a jury to vote about the guilt of a defendant in a criminal trial before the prosecutor and defense attorney had completed his or her case? In Minnesota, Vermont and New Jersey, people can early vote 45 days before Election Day. In California, Maine and Nebraska, early voting starts a month before. That’s nuts. Contemporaneous voting is critical to valid election outcomes. The reflexive advocacy of many elected officials for early voting is concerning, given how much the world can change between when millions of people vote early and Election Day.
Certainly, early voting increases voter convenience. However, evidence of higher voter turnout in early-voting states is, at best, mixed and inconclusive, according to reporting by The Post and NPR. The primary drivers of voter turnout are high-stakes elections, competitive races and charismatic candidates, not the length of time voters have to cast a vote. In addition, early voting may undermine turnout on Election Day by reducing its centrality.
Another negative impact of early voting, in sharp contrast, for example, to Montgomery County’s public-financing system for county races, is that it disadvantages challengers against incumbents, reducing competition in elections. That’s because the more days that people are able to vote, the more money it costs candidates to keep their messages up. Because the great majority of incumbents raise more campaign funds than their challengers, early voting favors incumbents.
Finally, if early voting doesn’t increase turnout, how can we justify the considerable cost to taxpayers of paying government workers to staff multiple polls days or weeks before Election Day, including overtime pay for evenings and weekends? Ironically, early voting is unavailable in Maryland the four days before an election, and in the District the three days before an election — when it would be most justifiable because of its proximity to Election Day — because the election boards maintain that they need time to prepare for Election Day itself.
There is a compelling argument for moving Election Day from Tuesday to a weekend day or making Election Day the entire weekend and for allowing Election Day registration to make voting more convenient for working people and to increase turnout, but it is time for voters and officials to reconsider early voting.