Sunday, October 26, 2008

Marc Fisher is Dead Wrong About Early Voting

One of the things Maryland voters are being asked to vote on this election is whether to authorize statewide early voting, i.e., no excuse, in-person voting that starts 2-3 weeks before election "day." Many other states, including Georgia and NC, have this, and it has been immensely popular.

In today's Washington Post, Marc Fisher-who we usually find quite reasonable--argues against Maryland's early voting proposition. His reasoning lacks coherence or rationality.

Fisher seems to be wallowing in some kind of nostalgia.

His first argument is what if something happens after early voting starts to change people's minds, like the economic collapse of late. This is pretty ridiculous--after all, what if something happens after election day to change our minds? We'd say that a lot of people wish'd, after election day, that they hadn't voted for W. Bush. The economic collapse could've happened in December; or 9/11 could've happened before the 2000 elections. Any election date brings with it the risk--indeed the certainty--that events after it could change voters' feelings.

On the other hand, MOST voters would not change their minds absent something awfully dramatic. The economic collapse MAY have shifted 5% of the electorate to Obama. Or maybe not--maybe it was McCain's Palin pick, his awful campaign and Obama's strong debate performances. In any event, the economic collapse hardly tells us much about the candidates themselves.

Fisher's second--and apparently, to him, more significant--argument is that voting should be a "communal experience." Voting "is a statement we make about ourselves, to ourselves, but also to each other. It is how we say, 'I am part of something larger, and my voice matters, and so does yours.' When we chip away at that communal experience, we diminish democracy."

We read this over and over, trying to see if we missed something. Nope, it's meaningless dribble. First, there have long been at least some people who vote absentee, usually at least 5-10% of the voting population. Is there something wrong with these folks that there votes aren't as valuable as those who share the "communal experience?"

Second, in most early voting states they have in-person early voting at regular polling sites and you get to wait in a line with your fellow voters. You just don't have to wait as long and you can go when it is more convenient. So it is communal, at least communal enough.

But some states, such as Oregon, have ALL mail-in voting, so it isn't communal. Is that so horrible? Commenters on Fisher's article made some excellent points about mail-in voting, including that such voters, who have their ballots in advance, often call campaigns and ask questions, and they can also research issues and be familiar with other issues, such as the wording of propositions and bond referenda. Turnout in Oregon is generally higher than other jurisdictions, certainly than Virginia.

In any event, Fisher's "communal experience" is a bunch of hogwash. In Virginia, polls close at 7:00 pm. Have you ever tried to get around town in evening rush hour traffic, after taking kids to their activities and so forth, in time to vote before 7:00?

And what if it rains--or snows as is the case in some northern climes--on election day? What's so communal about standing in line (or rushing to a polling place in such weather) in a pouring rain?

Finally, we have a totally irrational system of voting on Tuesdays, of all days. Most democracies vote on a Saturday or a Sunday and have it as a national holiday. We vote on Tuesdays, in November, because our founders thought it most convenient for an agrarian society. It was after the fall harvest, and it gave voters Monday to get to the polls and Wednesday to get home. Fisher could at least advocate for moving election day to some more convenient day!

Fisher has some other arguments--such as that because early voters are more motivated, more committed, or older, or younger, or whatever, it gives campaigns a chance to parse voters into different categories and treat them differently.

PUHLEEZE. They do it already.

How 'bout this. Let's have one day to vote, on a Saturday, and let's prohibit all campaign activities until two weeks before the election, so that we don't have to suffer from months and months (or years and years) of endless campaigning.

In any event, voters have spoken with their feet: in jurisdictions with early voting, it is immensely popular. Yet, for those traditionalists, such as Fisher (does he have a cell phone or email yet?) who like the communal experience of voting on election day, the opportunity still exists.


Ruth said...

Thanks, Ken - I'd been wondering myself what I thought of Marc's column. I, myself, do enjoy the communal get-out-and-vote, but don't see anything wrong with a system that affords as many ways and times to vote as are possible. And Marc's email (because, yes, he isn't *that* backward!) is

X Curmudgeon said...

Oh, we figured Marc had email--we left him a comment similar to our blog post, and noticed quite a few other lengthy and well-reasoned comments.

We think Marc should drive down to NC and commune with some early voters there and THEN make his judgment.

Favorite Uncle D said...

I voted in NC last Thursday. The early voting site was at a large mall. VERY COMMUNAL... yet the good citizens there mostly just stood quietly in line, waiting, with minimal "communing" (whatever that is)... just like on Election Day!

BTW, is there a Do Not Call (or Robocall) list for political campaigns? If not, this would be a fun campaign platform for a newby seeking office.