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Nov 13 2012

Why do people vote early?

I understand the appeal of voting by mail. I did it once long ago when I was going to be out of town on election day. It was easy and relaxed but did not provide me with the same emotional satisfaction as actually going to the polls so I never repeated it. My polling place is within walking distance and voting on election day (at least in my area) is quick and easy, rarely taking more than fifteen minutes.

So I am a little puzzled by all the reports this year of people who choose to travel to central voting offices and stand in long lines, sometimes for hours, to vote early. This might make sense if your work schedule does not allow you enough time on election day or some other contingency actually prevents you from voting on election day.

Perhaps those polling places like mine that cater to the more affluent electorate have enough voting machines and poll workers to make it go smoothly whereas the polling stations in poorer areas are understaffed and under-machined so that election day can involve a long wait, yet another means by which the poor are discouraged from voting. So if your past experience has been one of long waits on election day, then I can understand voting early.

I was speaking to a colleague on election day who said she had voted early by going downtown and stood in a long line to do so. Someone at the university had arranged a bus to enable people to do so. When I asked her why she did so when she lived in an area where voting on election day was quite quick, she did not have a reason. She seemed to have been swept up by this year’s enthusiasm to have people vote early.

I can understand why candidates would like their supporters to vote early but why voters would prefer it is not clear to me.

Did anyone reading this vote early and if so why?

28 comments

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  1. 1
    jaketoadie

    I voted early in the last 2 presidential elections, and in both cases there was no wait (Voting in Salt Lake City, UT)

    2008 was because I was going to be out of town on election day, so I had to.

    This year it was because it was a handy excuse for me and some friends to meet up at the polling place (Trolley Square mall) and have dinner and hang out for a while.
    I’m fairly sure that my company would have let me come in late, or have a long lunch or whatever if I needed to vote during the day, since they have always been cool with other reasons for doing so.

    The only problem I had was when I asked for a paper ballot, the poll lady seemed confused by my request. Someone else had to come over to show her how to print one out.

  2. 2
    machintelligence

    As a perennial mail-in voter I guess I just value my time and convenience over the warm glow of casting a ballot at a polling place. (I’m not much for ceremony, either.)

  3. 3
    coragyps

    I voted early because I knew the line would be < 2 persons – and there turned out to be no line. My wife voted early because she worked a precinct other than our own on election day.

    This county went 82% for that Republican feller, so we both wasted our efforts.

  4. 4
    Leo Buzalsky

    I voted early because the last time there was an initiative to vote for (so a special election) my wife and I were planning to vote after work. But then she got a migraine and neither of us voted! Now, I admit for an election like this, I would have drug her (nicely, of course!) to the polls if I would have needed to, but I decided I’d rather get it out of the way then deal with such a situation. (Ironically, perhaps, is that my wife did not agree with this assessment and decided she’d just vote — and did — on election day. Thus, my decision to vote early ended up not protecting against this worst-case scenario that it was intended to do.)

  5. 5
    ph041985

    Is 100% voter turnout the ideal? And if so, to what extent should we try to achieve it?

    My biggest beef is with the day we choose for Election Day itself. Why have it on a Tuesday at all? If getting as many people out to vote as possible is the ideal, why not have the election on a weekend, or ideally, all Friday-Sunday?

    As a democracy, isn’t seeing a 90-100% turnout what we should be trying to achieve?

    The only reason I can think of-other than the usual notions of tradition, which in cases like these tradition just means hindering progress-is to make it less likely that a middle-class worker will find it harder to vote. How’s someone going to find time to vote if they work from 6am til 5pm, then have to pick up kids, go grocery shopping, cook some dinner, etc etc?

    Obviously, mail-in ballots and early voting are means to make up for this, but to me, they’re just paying lip service to the idea of a truly 100% voter turnout. There are people who, for one reason or another, still can’t get out to vote, even with accommodations such as these. Character-judgments aside, shouldn’t their vote still count?

    Elections on the weekends. Vote-by-computer. Vote-by-smartphone. Anything we can do to make voting as simple as waking up. Obviously, people should still only get one vote and the technology should be advanced enough that voter fraud is still as unlikely as it is today. But even that’s not out of reach. If credit card companies can keep track of single people, the government should have that capability.

  6. 6
    Cathy W

    Long story short, Election Day is on a Tuesday because that was the best day to have it in 1845 – apparently to coordinate with Wednesday market days in a lot of counties.

    I know on Wednesdays, my county courthouse square is just hopping with all the people there for market… but now Election Day being on the day after the first Monday in November (to make sure it falls within the constitutionally required window before the electors meet to cast their votes – November 1 would not; Election Day can fall Nov. 2 – Nov. 8) is Sacred Tradition Not To Be Tampered With.

  7. 7
    Alverant

    My version of early voting is leaving 15 minutes early to work and going to the polling place. Not many people are there in the morning. I had no wait and was the 70th person to vote there that day. That being said I can understand why some people would want to mail in their votes. It can be a hassle or they may not have the time or be too far out of the way (I know employers are supposed to give time off for voting but we all know it will count against you unofficially if you do that).

    It should be easy to vote and if someone wants to do it by mail and their vote can be secured, why not allow it? I think we should extend how long we should let people vote early if it encourages more people to vote. What’s the harm? Plus it will make it easier to count the ballots since more will already be done by election day. (Assuming you’re allowed to count ballots before the big day.)

  8. 8
    unbound

    I agree with pho41985. Voting on a 11 to 14 hour window on a Tuesday in the current age is a form of voter suppression for the poor and middle class. Most corporations could care less if you vote, they just want you to get your butt into work and put in your 10 to 12 hour day for 8 hours worth of pay.

    Most of the early voting in my area is indeed due to work. Although the polls open at 6:00 am, a long line means that people will not be able to vote (this past election was in excess of 90 minutes in the morning). The commute is very long in the greater DC area for many people who start work early and get home late enough that getting to the poll can be risky (many people end up working crazy hours this time of year to get things done before the holidays).

  9. 9
    songbird

    I volunteered as a poll observer and discovered that with the changing precinct map people who had voted at a certain polling location for years found themselves at the wrong place. The other big one was people who had moved but not updated their address with the Board of Elections. I believe Dems were pushing early voting because if you go to the Board of Elections you’re not going to end up with a provisional ballot because of having not updated your address, and you’re not going to be sent to a different polling location (possibly endangering your ability to vote at all, depending on your schedule.)

  10. 10
    Randomfactor

    Perhaps those polling places like mine that cater to the more affluent electorate have enough voting machines and poll workers to make it go smoothly

    Bingo.

  11. 11
    sunny

    Thanks. Although the point you raise seems obvious, I never thought of it before. Do you know why ‘Tuesday’ was originally chosen?

  12. 12
    Scott J

    Not a US example, but used the early voting system (and absentee voting system) to vote in the New Zealand election last year due to being overseas…worked well for me. Having said that, we also don’t have widespread reports (or hysteria) of voter fraud so the whole thing was done without much fuss.

    I agree with some earlier comments, if it encourages a greater portion of the public to vote, then go early voting!

  13. 13
    hopeleith

    short answer? Jesus. Back in the 1800s people wouldn’t or couldn’t travel on Sunday so they couldn’t get to their polling place for Monday, so voting day was set on Tuesday.

  14. 14
    Nick Gotts

    Vote-by-computer. Vote-by-smartphone. – ph041985

    No! Defend the secret ballot! Early voting is fine, but voting by mail or whatever should be allowed only if the voter cannot get to the polling station. The secret ballot was introduced so that voters cannot sell their vote. These days, it’s equally important to prevent them being coerced into voting a particular way by someone else in the household.

  15. 15
    judykomorita

    I voted early for the first time. This option gave me both shorter lines (5 minutes), and a choice of where (in a building in a park) and when (Saturday morning) to vote. I’m going to do this every time!

  16. 16
    wholething

    I worked with moveon.org in 2004. It involved visiting several polling places in poorer areas of town. Those places were packed. On the nightly news, they showed the polling places in the rich parts of town where there were no lines and no waiting. In Ohio, you should vote the first chance you get because you don’t know when they’ll change the rules.

  17. 17
    ph041985

    “These days, it’s equally important to prevent them being coerced into voting a particular way by someone else in the household.”

    Eh, I would think that if you’re already sharing a household, the likelihood of who you’re voting for staying secret seems pretty low anyways.

    In any case, I was assuming that even in cases of voting-by-computer and voting-by-smartphone, a person’s ballot would still be kept as secret as if they voted in person.

  18. 18
    Marcus Ranum

    I had to travel for work on election day.

  19. 19
    joeschoeler

    I voted early. There was a polling place just a couple miles from me and there were just a few people in line, so it went fast. There are quite a few early voting locations nearby.

    But my normal polling location is even closer, within walking distance. So I guess that it’s mostly that I wanted to get it finished and not feel like I was waiting until the last minute.

  20. 20
    thewhollynone

    I have only voted absentee once in my lifetime, about five years ago, when I knew that I would be out of town on election day. And I have voted in every election for which I was eligible since I was 21 years old in 1958, but looking back on it, I have to say that I used very poor judgment in some of the ballots I cast. Too soon old and too late smart, as the saying goes.

  21. 21
    thewhollynone

    No, officials are not allowed to count ballots until election day. If they counted early ballots before election day, the word would always leak out and could easily influence the voter turnout.

  22. 22
    Corvus illustris

    “Eh, I would think that if you’re already sharing a household, the likelihood of who you’re voting for staying secret seems pretty low anyways.”

    Of course Nick Gotts (formerly KG) can speak for himself, but I get the impression that the worry would not be secrecy but rather that in certain (e.g., fundie) households the paterfamilias would dictate the votes to the wife and resident adult offspring. The analogue is a very real threat in nursing-home or in-home care situations: absentee-ballot envelopes in Michigan list very dire penalties for those who fill in other people’s ballots, suggest ways to vote, or just ask. Mrs Corva can get around only with difficulty and I qualify by age, so we always vote by mail; due to the dire penalties, I don’t want to say any more …

  23. 23
    Frank

    Mano,

    I understand the “emotional satisfaction” of voting in-person on election day, and always went to the poll until a few years ago, when I started voting by mail. Unfortunately, the majority of races here in Cuyahoga County are for judges, and it is much more convenient to do the research with the ballot next to my laptop.

  24. 24
    Hannu

    The reason you must go to a voting booth in order to vote and can’t vote by phone or internet is that in a voting booth you can have privacy so that no-one will know who you voted for and thus no-one can pressure you to vote their way. With smartphone or internet-voting you wouldn’t have that which is why they shouldn’t be allowed.

  25. 25
    sailor1031

    “Perhaps those polling places like mine that cater to the more affluent electorate have enough voting machines and poll workers to make it go smoothly whereas the polling stations in poorer areas are understaffed and under-machined so that election day can involve a long wait, yet another means by which the poor are discouraged from voting. So if your past experience has been one of long waits on election day, then I can understand voting early.”

    You have answered your own question. Making election day a paid holiday could help, but the fact that many polling stations in poorer areas are badly equipped and staffed, and therefore could not handle the volume in one day anyway, must also be addressed – by the DOJ – because it is deliberate policy of many republican administrations.

  26. 26
    h. hanson

    We have mail in only. Even if we did not I would still vote early by mail. I am a rural voter and the polling place is not just down the avenue.

  27. 27
    Paul W.

    I prefer to vote early because I live in a relatively liberal urban area in a very red state, where Republicans run the elections.

    I don’t trust the Republicans not to suppress the vote around here, by any means necessary, including last-minute changes to voting procedures, as in Ohio. It’s less likely to happen in a very red state than a swing state where Republicans hold the responsible offices, but I don’t trust them at all.

    This time around, that didn’t happen here, but I will continue to vote early when it’s convenient, just in case. I’ve had to wait hours and hours to vote before, a couple of times, and didn’t much like it.

    I think voting early is a good strategy for other reasons having nothing to do with intentional vote suppression. On election day, something may come up that makes it harder to get to the polls at a good time—your car breaking down, somebody needing a favor, a problem at work needing immediate attention, etc.—or there might be an unintentional problem with bad voter registration data, or whatever. If you try to vote early and something goes wrong, you can fix it on election day. If you wait until election day, you don’t get another chance.

    Most places and times, it doesn’t matter a lot, but why wait? Why take that chance, and throw away a second chance?

    And if you live in a largely Democratic area in a swing state where Republicans run the elections, it’s a very bad idea to wait. Your vote is much, much more likely to be important, and they’re much more motivated to stop you from casting it.

  28. 28
    jamesmaynard

    My wife and I voted on the first day of early voting. The lines are shorter and you can pick any early voting spot within your county. While my home polling location is right in my neighborhood and along my daily commute, I only had to drive a couple of miles out of my way to vote early and avoid any possible delay or other hassle.

    And once again, I’m happy to live in one of the few non-red counties in Texas (Travis County).

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