Today being the Saturday before the election, there will likely be a lot of early voting in those states that allow it. According to some estimates, about 34 million people have already voted, which is about 27% of the 125 million total votes cast in the 2012 election. After this weekend, it could well have risen to a third or more of the final total, though some states such as Nevada and Florida ended early voting yesterday (Friday). There are already analyses of early voting patterns and efforts to draw conclusions from the available data with each party trying to spin the data in its favor. These analyses are based on how many people have voted early, which political parties they belong to, and comparisons with previous years, though of course we do not know who people actually voted for.
The drawback with early voting is that each voter is deciding based on different information. But of course, that would always be the case even if they all voted on the same day because of the highly fragmented way that we get news these days. Early voters are essentially saying that their minds are made up and are betting that nothing major will happen before election day that might cause them to change it.
That sense of certainty is understandable. In the past my actual final vote was decided well before the election though I have always waited to vote until the actual day of the election, except once when I was going to be out of town and requested an absentee ballot. That was in the days when you had to have a reason to vote by mail, unlike now when Ohio allows early voting by mail or in person to anyone who wants to. Although I cannot imagine for the life of me what might cause me to shift my vote from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, I still like to keep my options open until the end.
I also enjoy going to the polling place on election day and seeing all the poll workers and the signs outside. Even after all these many elections that I have participated in both in Sri Lanka and the US, I still feel a sense of participation in a major event that might be missing if I went down to the election office on some other day.
I can understand that for many people their jobs might not allow them to vote on the day itself. And they might fear long lines, as often happens in poorer neighborhoods that tend to have fewer machines and voting staff and experience more problems. Being able to choose a time and place to vote that is convenient to them makes sense. So I am glad that there is this option even if I do not use it myself.
But I am a little puzzled by the close attention paid to early voting patterns and speculations about what they foretell about the final outcome. How do we know that the final tallies will not be the same because all that early voting does is shift the same votes away from election day? For every article that says that early voting patterns are a good predictor of the outcome, there are others that say the opposite. I suspect that journalists write about this because they are exhausted by having analyzed opinion polls to death and this is something new and looks like it may be more concrete.
I myself tend to ignore early voting analyses. In fact, by this stage in the process, pretty much anything such as early voting patterns and absentee ballot counts and opinion polls, are useless. People have pretty much decided if they are going to vote and whom they are going to vote for. The cake is baked, as they say, and we have to just steel ourselves to ignore all the ways that the media tries to keep us in a state of anxiety and suspense.