In Response to Early Voting Critics

On October 23rd, I spent two hours passing out voter guides to eligible voters on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus, because it was the first day of early voting in Travis County. Travis County, and Texas statewide, has many important propositions, constitutional amendments, and bonds up for election, and typically when I approach eligible voters with ballot information outside of a presidential election year, they are surprised that local and state elections are even occurring.

 

Thus, I find early election periods extremely important when reminding voters that they can and should vote, let alone providing voters with multiple dates in which they can cast a vote.

 

Maybe since I’ve sunken so much time into early voting and “get out the vote” advocacy that I’ve developed a backfire effect* whenever early voting is criticized. However, harking on a previous article I’ve written, there are different hats individuals put on to make their decisions, and when I don my philosopher’s hat, I am reminded that not all of life’s values must be thrust under an analysis of trade offs; some values are too valuable to warrant any trade off decisions. Voting and its benefits are one of those values. Because early voting supports an individuals' ability to vote, it should be supported. 

 

The Washington Times posted an article by Hans von Spakovsky last week entitled “Early voting disadvantages seem to outweigh benefits”. In the article, Spakovsky argued that early voting seems to have an adverse effect on voting turnout, even though its aim is to increase voting turnout. Early voting states have as much as a three to four percentage point voting turnout difference as states without early voting. Spakovsky suggests the following reasons why early voting should be discontinued:

  1. Diffused get-out-the-vote efforts throughout many weeks of early voting decreases the intensity of the efforts that would convince people to vote, leading to decreased voter turnout.
  2. Voting early deprives voters from having newer knowledge that can be revealed all the way up until Election Day.
  3. Voting early can lead to “thrown away” votes when candidates drop out of an election before Election Day.
  4. Political campaigning is drawn out due to early voting, which disadvantages candidates who have smaller campaigning budgets.

 

In order, I plan to address each of these points.

 

1. Diffused get-out-the-vote efforts throughout many weeks of early voting decreases the intensity of the efforts that would convince people to vote, leading to decreased voter turnout.

 

Early voting advocates do, in fact, point to increased voter turnout as one of their goals—any voting advocate does. One should be cautious when simplifying early voting goals, though. Should early voting strictly increase voter turnout, or should it provide voters with as much opportunity as possible to exercise their right to vote?

 

One of the concerns that lead to implementation of early voting is the phenomenon of long lines on non-holiday workdays. Individuals are given more liberty in choosing when to exercise their right to vote when they can vote early. Election Day is not a national holiday. Voters have to face the realities of waiting in long lines to cast a ballot as they also struggle to go about their normal workday. Given only a single day to vote, individuals are forced to decide whether potentially missing work is worth casting a vote.

 

If the act of voting has so much intrinsic value that any trade off analysis would be essentially pointless (since voting always trumps any other possible trade off decision), then eligible voters will (should) always choose to vote, regardless of the probable harm they will endure for missing work, taking care of children, running errands, etc. If the state is tasked with ensuring people’s welfare, government should make it easier for people to be less harmed by fulfilling their civic duty, and taking away early voting does not preserve welfare.

 

Providing citizens with multiple dates to choose from to go vote introduces more choice into citizen’s structuralized voting lives. Whether citizens actually use any of those multiple days to vote is irrelevant to the state’s task at hand. Early voting attempts to establish a higher potentiality for citizens to vote, not an actual increase in voter turnout. It would be nice if turnout was higher; but, again, it’s not a requirement.

 

2. Voting early deprives voters from having newer knowledge that can be revealed all the way up until Election Day.

 

This is a legitimate issue, but it’s one that cannot be avoided unless every citizen who chooses to vote votes simultaneously on a single day. Information about candidates can come out at any point in time, so they can technically come out all the way up until the second a person casts his or her vote.

 

Perhaps a better way to ensure that information imbalances between voters does not occur is to have a uniform early voting period across counties and states. One might extrapolate that I advocate for longer, 45-day early voting periods because I want to maximize voting potentiality, but this potentiality might very well be maximized with a smaller voting period as well. Decreasing longer early voting periods can also decrease how much time voters can be confronted with new information. I propose that there is an efficient length of time in between these two variables (voter information and potentiality of voting) that yields the most societal benefit.

 

Similar to how crime is impossible to avoid and so there is an is an efficient level of crime, misinformation and lack of information are impossible to avoid in electoral processes. Instead of undoing the whole early voting system because information issues are present, Spakovsky should endeavor to find an efficient level of voter misinformation in relation to voting potentiality.

 

3. Voting early can lead to “thrown away” votes when candidates drop out of an election before Election Day.

 

I struggle to identify any vote casted as a “throw away” vote. Short of having a vote invalidated for some systematic reasons, such as a election technology glitch or a punch hole improperly placed on a paper ballot, a vote that portrays the preferences of the voter at the time the vote was cast is a truly casted, valid vote.

 

A candidate changing on a ballot is also considered new information that will factor into voting behaviors. However, individuals will always be confronted with new information after they vote that would have potentially changed how they voted in the past. If we were to compare ballots to contracts, then it is imperative that past ballots are honored even when future ballots change. Contracts must still be honored even when new information might come to light because the possibility of new information coming to light is a gamble every party must weigh when entering into a contract.

 

Voting is no different story. A voter must weigh whether voting early and risking not having new information has more utility than voting on Election Day and having as much available knowledge as possible. One success of the state is providing the individual voter with this trade off. Without early voting, voters do not even have this option to consider what is most efficient for them.

 

Lastly, Spakovsky is identifying a systematic issue of primary elections, not early voting. I think a conversation on how national primary elections across multiple states are scheduled and structured would show that “thrown away” votes are derivative of primary elections and not just early voting practices.

 

4. Political campaigning is drawn out due to early voting, which disadvantages candidates who have smaller campaigning budgets.

 

Again, this is an issue that is derivative of campaigning issues in America, not early voting intrinsically. Imagine that there is only one day to vote, Election Day. Political campaigns with more massive budgets can be even more intense in their campaigning efforts in the shorter period leading up to Election Day. Smaller political campaigns can also do more intensive campaigning in a smaller period of time, but it still will be dwarfed in comparison to more well funded campaigns.

 

Less well funded campaigns have to be very strategic in their campaigning in order to stay relevant throughout an early voting period, and well funded campaigns have to be strategic, too.

 

Simply, if a candidate with a small campaign budget must face a diffusing effect of their campaigning because he or she is forced to spread out how much he or she campaigns in a given amount of time, the candidate with a large campaign budget must face this effect, too. This misplaced criticism of early voting becomes a nonissue.

 

Early voting helps preserve the welfare of society by introducing more choice into a citizen’s voting behaviors. It upholds the potential for the fulfillment of civic duty without many demands on actual voter turnout. Stripping it from the voting procedures because it is seemingly disadvantageous at first glance will do more harm to the American voting system than good. The American people should be extremely careful in its critique of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Find out what’s on the Travis County ballot!! Early voting ends Nov. 3rd and Election Day is Nov. 7th!

 

*A backfire effect refers to the strengthening of a belief or opinion whenever contradictory evidence against the strongly held belief or opinion is presented to an individual.