Vote Early?

I like to vote on election day.   Here in rural Maine not only is there never a line, but local candidates are outside the polling center to shake hands and chat (but not campaign), and there is real community spirit.

Voting, after all, is not a rational act.   Rational action means one calculates the expected utility (positive outcome) of a choice.   In the case of voting the time lost, gas used, and effort undertaken is almost certain to be more than the very unlikely possibility that ones’ vote will determine the outcome of an election.   In terms of pure rationality, you’re better off not voting.

Voting instead should be seen as a duty, a moral obligation to our democratic community.  It is a collective good – it may not be in any one person’s rational self-interest to go vote, but it’s in our collective interest to have everyone vote.    People who feel connected to a community are more likely to vote as they recognize it as a task we undertake in order to enjoy the benefits of democracy.

The problem is compounded in cities and urban areas where voter can stand in line for hours.   Not only does this make voting seem completely irrational, but not everyone has hours to sacrifice – a single mom who works and then has to take care of small children may be unable to take the time, for example.

Thus the rise of early voting.   States have always had absentee ballots for those who couldn’t vote on election day.   That later evolved into “no excuse” absentee ballots and in person early voting.   This has grown rapidly since the 2004 election.  That year Ohio decided the election for President Bush, and the state was dogged by long voting lines which arguably dissuaded some people from voting.

The states in blue allow no-excuse early voting either by mail in or in person ballot.  The purple states are in person only, while the green ones are mail in only.   The grey states have no ‘no excuse’ early voting.   Is this a good thing?

Here in Maine early voting may have determined an election in 2010.   In a three way race for governor, early polls showed Democrat Libby Mitchell in a tough campaign against Paul LePage, a tea party Republican who narrowly won a plurality in a field of six Republican primary candidates.    Independent Elliot Cutler was third when early voting started.  Mitchell’s campaign plummeted after that and the result was:  Le Page 218,065, Cutler 208,270 and Mitchell 109,387.

The Democrats had an extensive get out the vote effort and many are convinced that Mitchell had at least 10,000 ‘early votes’ that would have gone to Cutler if people had waited and seen Mitchell’s campaign collapse.   Some vowed never to vote early again!

Some claim that early voting helped bring tea party favorite Paul LePage to the Governor’s mansion in Maine

That is probably an exception, and may not even have determined the result.   10,000 is a lot of votes, about a quarter of the total early votes.

Some dislike early voting because they believe people should pay attention to the campaign and be willing to change their minds up until the end.   That is idealistic, but most of the early voters are not going to change their mind.   Indeed, probably over 90% of voters are still where they were in their preferences half a year ago.   The Maine case noted above wasn’t so much a change in preference but of strategy – they wanted to stop Le Page.

Others note that early voting benefits the campaign with the best get out the vote effort.   GOTV efforts used to focus on election day, now campaigns can cajole voters to fill out absentees or go in to vote early.   This is especially important in swing states like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado.    This year it appears Obama’s GOTV operation is stronger than Romney’s, but it’s hard to tell.

The fact is that this year about a third of voters are expected to vote early, and in states like Colorado and Nevada it can be well over half the voters.    Republicans have tried to limit early voting out of a belief that it is more likely to increase the turn out of groups that traditionally don’t vote in high numbers like blacks, Latinos or the poor.   Since these groups are also more likely to vote Democratic, they believe that early voting helps Democrats.

Efforts to demand voter ID and limit early voting are seen by critics as Republican efforts to block the vote of those more likely to vote Democratic

While I prefer to vote on election day, I support early voting.   I support it because of the fact it just might bring out poor and minority voters who traditionally don’t vote.

Someone who votes is more likely to take responsibility and work to build a better community.    If you care about an election, you may become more likely to care about your neighborhood.  If you care about your community, you might be more likely to make extra efforts to improve your life situation, help your children achieve more, and move out of poverty.

Idealistic?  Perhaps.   But critics of social welfare programs argue that they create psychological dependency, whereby a chunk of those on welfare find it easier to feel like victims and just live off others.   Not 47% by any means, but there are some.   Still others may not be that far gone but yet feel alienated and powerless.   These are curable conditions.   They may result from poverty, but they also increase the likelihood poverty will become permanent.

There could be much more done to address this issue.   Social welfare programs should be less the mailing out of checks and more in the realm of community action.   Community organizers should be the key line of defense against poverty, not bureaucracies in Washington.   Real reform could help make the safety net also a ladder out of poverty.

Voting can’t do all that, but perhaps it’s like a gateway drug, creating a connection between the individual and the community.   That can be built upon.   So if early voting brings out more voters, especially people who have felt alienated and outside the community, then it is a good thing.

Still, I’ll be at the community center on November 6th (not the 7th – thanks Sarah, for catching that!), enjoying the ritual of voting in person on election day!

  1. #1 by Norbrook on October 20, 2012 - 16:18

    In my case, it’ll be the town fire hall.

  2. #2 by lbwoodgate on October 20, 2012 - 20:25

    I personally think we ought to add an amendment to the constitution to make voting mandatory, like they’ve done in Australia and several other countries. It forces people to weigh the candidates and issues more, with turnouts of 98% or better. While making it mandatory to vote they need to make sure voting always falls on a weekend, not a workday that makes it more difficult for working class families to make it to the polls.

    Any restrictions to voting like we have here is just simply undemocratic.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on October 21, 2012 - 10:33

      Italy has the same thing, though they don’t enforce it. I think part of the problem is that if we had mandatory voting we’d have to have national ID and “automatic” registration. Both would meet intense resistance, I’m afraid.

    • #4 by SShiell on October 21, 2012 - 15:05

      I could get behind a mandatory vote rule so long as there is a “none of the above” option on the ballot and a majority of all votes cast would be required to be declared the winner.

      • #5 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 21, 2012 - 20:43

        Can you clarify? Are you hinting at an antipathy to any sort of proportional representation or is this an objection to the electoral college?

        On PR, I think I’d heard a while back that it does take place in some states. Scott, can you clarify the situation on that?

      • #6 by Scott Erb on October 21, 2012 - 22:05

        Not sure about PR in the US – I’m actually better at European politics than America (though I have a colleague I can ask this week). You can have a majority wins option, but almost always that entails a run off where either two go against each other or a plurality wins — I think you’d need that if you have “none of the above” as an option.

      • #7 by SShiell on October 22, 2012 - 00:09

        No, no antipathy or objection to the electoral college here.

        If you are going to force me to do vote you should ensure all alternatives are available to declare my intent as a member of the electorate. And “none of the above” along with all of the candidates ensures a complete set of alternatives.

        And a simple majority is not too much to ask for someone who is to represent all of the people.

  3. #8 by dirtnrocksnomo on October 21, 2012 - 01:57

    Interesting topic. I just completed my ballot and will mail it in with my daughter on Monday. This is my first time using this method. It has been easy and convenient.

    lb, I like your idea but don’t necessarily agree about a constitutional amendment. Maybe moving the voting day to sunday is the better alternative. Or maybe a national holiday should be declared for the day to vote in national election. I do agree though that somehow voter participation must be increased. People need to take their civic duty more serious.

  4. #9 by Snoring Dog Studio on October 21, 2012 - 10:17

    I’ve been hearing lately that young voters (especially ones claiming to be Dems) are less likely to vote this election, which alarms me. I heard one college-age youth say that the candidates aren’t addressing issues that affect them. And I gasped. It’s difficult to believe that youth can’t be compelled to get involved given the number of issues that affect them. Are they not keeping up with the news? Are they not aware of the issues? Of course, I was fairly apathetic when I was younger, too. But what with social media and the Internet, it seems to me that youth could easily get fired up about something.

    • #10 by Scott Erb on October 21, 2012 - 10:32

      In 2000 there were a number of college students in Florida that said they’d planned to vote, but just didn’t find the time. That was enough to assure Gore wouldn’t win Florida. I think a lot of young people just don’t pay attention to politics, in part because of how much negativity and “marketing” it contains. But there are intense get out the vote efforts, so hopefully most will be convinced to vote.

  5. #11 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 21, 2012 - 20:41

    We’ll never really know who won Florida now will we? Of course, I suppose if all those college students had voted, there would never have been any controversy.

    • #12 by Scott Erb on October 21, 2012 - 22:02

      Statistically Florida was so close that you could recount it ten times and have different results every time (in 2000). When it’s that close you’ll never be sure it’s right. But if college students had voted, yeah, it would have been different!

    • #13 by SShiell on October 22, 2012 - 00:03

      And it was not only the college students – 70 minute prior ot the polls closing in the heavily Republican panhandle of Florida (Central time zone versus the rest of the state in the Eastern time zone), CBS & NBC declared Gore had won the state, causing many people still standing on their way to vote to return home without voting thinking the issue had been decided.

      And maybe if that had not had happened . . . Ever heard of winged frogs and bumping butts?


  6. #15 by Sarah on October 22, 2012 - 08:42

    Hi Scott, I think you want to vote on the 6th not the 7th this year.

    • #16 by Scott Erb on October 22, 2012 - 11:50

      Thanks, Sarah, I’ve corrected it!

  7. #17 by elizjamison on October 24, 2012 - 06:44

    Reblogged this on A Daily Journal of my Comp/Rhet Dissertation and commented:
    Are you going to vote? Will you vote early? Check out World in Motion’s latest post for a discussion about this.

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