Early voting has arrived in Florida, and with it the inevitable rush to the polls.
I can’t say I fault anyone who exercises the early option, particularly this year, when the choices at the top are so unrelentingly dismal.
In 2016, voting early is sort of like ripping off a bandage. You know it’s going to hurt, but it is better to do it quickly and with conviction. And then you can get on with life, knowing that no matter what happens in the last two weeks, you have done your part.
That’s one way to look at it, anyway.
Forgive me if I do not join you.
Early voting, in all of its manifestations, strikes me as a bad idea, for a variety of reasons. Not least of these is — at the risk of lending undue support for Donald Trump — the potential for mischief increases when voting is stretched over a period of weeks.
But even if there were a 100 percent guarantee against dirty tricksters taking advantage of extended voting opportunities, I still would prefer a single Election Day.
I like that Election Day — not Election Month, or Election Fortnight — is mentioned in the Constitution. I like what it represents: the great coming together of the vast body politic for its distinguishing opportunity and obligation. I like the All-American cohesion that is lost — indeed, recklessly sacrificed — in our manic pursuit of eliminating the vigor from exercising our franchise.
Supporters of convenience voting stress the idea that making the ballot box more readily available encourages unlikely participants to get in the game, thereby pushing up turnout.
Except it doesn’t. Study after study, including those from the Pew Research Center to the Government Accounting Office, reports essentially the same thing: At best, early voting tends to cannibalize Election Day voting. That is, people who would have voted anyway take advantage of the early option, with no boost to the overall turnout.
At worst, early voting dilutes the special tug of Election Day, “reducing,” as Evan Horowitz writes in Monday’s Boston Globe, “the size of the Tuesday wave which used to carry people to the polls as if for a civic celebration.”
And here I quote myself, from a similarly brooding column for the Tampa Tribune a little more than two years ago, with brackets indicating the changes since then:
“This doesn’t mean Election Day purists aren’t keen to seek reasonable accommodations. The idea of making Election Day a full 24 hours, and every state beginning and ending at the same moment — say 7 a.m. on the East Coast, 4 a.m. on the West Coast, 1 a.m. in Hawaii and Alaska — intrigues. So does switching from local precincts to ‘supercenters’ that would allow voters to cast ballots near where they work or shop. We have the technology.
“With the money saved on manning early-voting locations … elections supervisors could buy voting booths and optical readers sufficient to meet a one-day crush. We could even send them to training sessions in the 17 [ now 13] states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts [alas, the Old Colony State succumbed in 2016], Michigan and Virginia (all of which went for Barack Obama in 2012), where they have no form of early or excuse-free absentee voting, and still cope with turnouts matching or exceeding the national average.”
National Review’s John Fund, who has been writing about threats to honest elections for years, frets that early voting exacerbates the weaknesses in our balloting systems. Especially concerning, however, is the notion that early voting encourages Americans to tune out prematurely.
Fund quotes one former Justice Department official, Christian Adams, saying, “Those who vote a month in advance are saying they don’t care about weighing all the facts.”
This, of course, is every voter’s right. We don’t make a big fuss anymore about Americans being well-informed, or even informed at all, before they cast a ballot. To hear some elections supervisors tell it — and they are often echoed in the media — turnout is its own reward.
Adams, meanwhile, likened the quick trigger-pullers to jurors who stand up in the middle of a case and announce they’ve reached their verdict.
Listen, I don’t expect my voice in the wilderness is going to reverse the tsunami. Americans, who value convenience a bit more than they should, like early voting options, and the preference cuts across every political persuasion.
Well, fine. Have it your way. But this year, more than any in recent memory, fresh, decision-influencing information about every candidate — not just those running for president — is certain to leak out right up until the moment the polls open Nov. 8.
Therefore, I will keep my powder dry until then. Like V’Ger in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” when I take up my government-issued felt-tipped pen in two weeks, I will do so knowing all that is knowable.
That might not be a big deal to the rest of you. It is to me.