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Early Voting: A Dissent

| October 15, 2016

early voting dissent nancy smith

Not this year. (Kristin Wolff)

By Nancy Smith

Donald Trump’s vulgar video last week and the release of more Hillary Clinton campaign WikiLeaks Monday are perfect examples of why Florida needs to dump early voting and return to Voting Day.

Blessed Voting Day. Remember that? When we all had access to the same information about candidates and voted as part of a shared patriotic experience, good or bad?

Almost every election year I write this column. Absolutely no one listens. But I think I make a good case and probably will never stop trying. Early voting — making what should be one glorious day into a costly, noisy, contentious season — always cheats the democratic process, but probably never more than this year when we’re deciding between probably the two most unpopular presidential candidates in American history.

Floridians are already voting by mail. It’s already started. Thousands don’t have to pay attention anymore. Yet, you and I both know Trump and Clinton, being Trump and Clinton, will present us with more potential game-changers before Nov. 8. More shockers. Maybe that’s OK for you, who wouldn’t change your vote if your candidate pistol-whipped a little old lady at a campaign rally. But some voters, maybe a critical number, are going to wish they’d waited until Nov. 8. Particularly this year.

That unanticipated, 11th-hour surprise happened in 2002 in Minnesota, an early-voting state, when Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Democrat, was killed days before the election. Those who voted for him early saw their votes negated and had no chance to re-vote. The loss of those votes, we’ve found out since, decided the election for Wellstone’s successor.

Information about candidates and issues crescendos. It builds, week upon week in an election year, particularly during the last month. Surveys have proven that voters absorb twice as much information about races on the ballot during the last week than in all the weeks leading up to Election Day.

Early voting is a great convenience in this day and age, I realize that. But convenience isn’t enough reason to spend the thousands upon thousands of dollars per each of Florida’s 67 counties. And it’s actually more of a convenience to political machines than to individuals. Year after election year, news services are full of reports of machines rounding up people with phone calls, warning of alarming problems and sending them scurrying to vote on the basis of the moment, before all the information is available.

The net effect is to offer political parties and special interests a chance to manipulate, to lock up blocs of votes in advance of Election Day and to keep opposition parties and candidates from offering another viewpoint.

When this year is over, can’t we start a conversation about returning to Voting Day? Can’t we just make it special? Make it a national holiday. Make it a day off, a day of national reverence, if you will. Triple the number of polling places, expand the hours so sites are open 20 hours and devote the whole of the day to getting ourselves and the elderly and infirm who need our help to the polls.

Return to voting day and make it a national holiday. Make it a day off, a day of national reverence

Why don’t we just do that? Pursuant to Chapter 2016-37, Laws of Florida, we still have the “vote-by-mail ballot”  (formerly absentee ballot).

Doesn’t the fact that early voting is such dissonant chaos in America today tell us how poisoned our politics has become? The idea that we require days and days to convenience marginally interested or downright lazy people to vote just because one party distrusts the other makes no sense at all.

If you believe more people vote the more days you give them, you’re wrong. As the leading democracy in the world, the United States trails most developed economies in terms of voter turnout. To put it bluntly, U.S. voter participation is pitiful.

According to the Pew Research Center, a mere 65 percent of the voting-age population in the United States was registered to vote in 2012, which is laughable compared to Canada’s 91 percent. Even worse, only around half of eligible voters even bothered voting in the last presidential election. And voting for midterm congressional elections? Too sad to even mention here (though if you want to know, click here).

Many large democracies have already declared holidays during elections: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, India, New Zealand. All those countries have higher voter turnout in national elections than the United States. Perhaps that’s due to some other factor, but maybe it’s as simple as having the day off.

Bernie Sanders first grabbed my attention some years back because for more than 15 years he has been a strong supporter of making Election Day a national holiday. In an op-ed piece in The Guardian in November 2014, Sanders wrote that when Congress got back to work that year, he would enact a law calling for a “Democracy Day” that would make Election Day a holiday.

“This would by no means be a cure-all for increasing turnout,” he wrote, “but it would mark one important step to increase participation and create the kind of political system the world can look upon as an example, not a failure.” Well, Sanders introduced his bill and, yes, it failed. But that doesn’t make it a bad idea. I think it would have increased voter turnout while giving supervisors of elections more time to educate voters and prepare for an orderly Election Day. But we’ll never know unless, please God, we make the bold move to try it.

nancy smith sunshine state news columnistNancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.

14 Responses for “Early Voting: A Dissent”

  1. Veteran says:

    Personally I’ve made up my mind so I will vote early. Nothing can change my mind. If a person is undecided then don’t vote until you are. It’s not rocket science.

  2. Ken Dodge says:

    I will agree to the requirement that all voters vote on Election Day when we agree to the requirement that all holiday shoppers shop on Christmas Eve.

  3. hmmmm says:

    There is no game changers here. You are voting for establishment if you vote Hilary and a destruction of the elite robber baron /societal blood suckers / ‘media’ / corrupt leadership with Trump or Bernie. Who cares if they naked and dances on the moon. The system is completely broken.

    I’m sorry but avoiding WW3 (see recent Jill Stein article) and not having supreme court justices “wet worked” (most recent email yes they probably killed Scalia), having democracy work and not having DNC override voters (Bernie won) my survival and children/ grandchildren future is more important than locker room talk. Lets not get started with all the suicidse and unsolved murders of DNC staff….

    Bernie is also an option, as it may be possible for enough write ins to deny 270 elec to either Trump or Clinton. Either way Americans have begun to wake and the future can be very bright if we pursue it.

    Feel the Bern or make America great again we win either way.

  4. Freddy says:

    I think Nancy is wasting time with her article. Early voters are mostly older people who have made up their minds one way or another. This last minute mud slinging by both parties is not going to change their mind. I have made up mine and not going to change it.

  5. beachcomberT says:

    I favor retaining at least a few days of early voting, but I would require they include the Saturday-Sunday-Monday just prior to Election Day, mainly to make it easier for working people to exercise their franchise. As a poll worker for the past 10 years, I have seen repeatedly how working people tend to bunch up at the polls in the 4-7 p.m; time slot while retirees dominate the rest of the day. In this era, when many workers are spending 10-12 hours on work plus the commute to Orlando, or holding down 2 jobs, or preoccupied with getting kids to and from school or daycare, Florida’s 7 to 7 voting schedule is outmoded. Extending the deadline to 9 p.m. would help but having a choice of days would be better. With computerized registration and voting now in effect, it would be easy to document and compare turnout for various age brackets. I think you would find that under-50 turnout is significantly lower than for older voters. Yet younger voters have much more at stake in the choice of candidates and referenda.

  6. Knightwatch says:

    You’re right about one thing, Nancy, no one’s paying attention, nor should they.

    Early voting enables millions of voters to get access to polls. There simply aren’t enough polling locations, voting machines or election administrators and staff to handle upwards of 130 million voters in a single day. Without early voting, far too many voters would be deterred by impossibly long lines and waiting times. And that’s assuming those millions who have the patience and fortitude to stand out there in the dark, cold, snow, rain, or any other adverse condition to vote could be processed in the time allotted.

    Need to be realistic, Nancy

  7. tulip says:

    A lot of Catholics and Latinos have already voted. If they voted for Hillary, then heard the wikileaks where Hillary was demeaning the Catholic religion and calling the Latinos “needy” Perhaps they will regret voting early?

    This so called election has been one of new scandals almost daily about one or the other candidate and too many people hear one side then jump in and vote instead of thinking about it first.

  8. SJ Peterson says:

    I agree 100%. I remember the time Election Day was a ‘holiday’. I am a typically ‘blue’ voter in a red state in a red county. I don’t particularly trust my paper ballot in the hands of anyone any longer than necessary. It’s bad enough that primary election votes across this country were stolen from Bernie Sanders. There’s a red flag for trustworthiness already in place. Why not replace Columbus Day with Election Day as a Federal Holiday? Most people don’t get the day off anyway. Only banks, city, state, Fed gov’t and schools close. Holidays are pretty much a farce. Heaven forbid employers actually observe all holidays. Who gets MLK Day off or Veterans Day. But I regress….yes a National Election Day where people have plenty of time to get out and vote in one 24 hour period would be great. These days with social media and our never ending news stations, too much information is being delivered prematurely that can affect a genuine heartfelt vote.

  9. Nancy N. says:

    THere’s A LOT of red herring arguments in Ms Smith’s article.

    She quotes higher registration rates in other countries as proof that more people vote in those countries. Registration numbers aren’t proof those people are actually turning out to the polls. What it IS evidence of is that those countries make it easier and more convenient to register to vote, while in this country many GOP controlled states have been making it more and more difficult by creating paperwork rules and making rules on how and where you can register. In states that have “motor voter” registration, rates are much higher for registration.

    Ms Smith also argues against early voting by saying it obviously hasn’t improved turnout because our voter turnout is still dismal. “Still dismal” doesn’t mean that it wasn’t even worse before early voting was made available. The only way to prove that early voting doesn’t help turnout is to look at turnout rates before and after its implementation, and Ms Smith doesn’t do that.

    Rather than railing about early voting as the cause of low turnout, perhaps Ms Smith should look at her own party (it’s my understanding from her earlier pieces that she’s a GOP member). Why is our voting participation so low? Well, the GOP has been working hard to keep it that way by limiting the access of certain groups that statistically don’t support them. Felon disenfranchisement is keeping over 1 million people from voting in the state of Florida alone. Voter ID laws are preventing millions more across the country from voting.

    It’s no mistake that the push to end early voting has been coming from the GOP. Research has proven that early voting is disproportionately used by groups that tend to skew Democrat – such as black churches and their “souls to the polls” drives on the Sundays leading to election day. High income whites – a group that tends to vote heavily GOP – have a much easier time getting to the polls on election day.

    Forcing everyone to vote on election day would cause congestion and long lines at the polls, creating untenable delays for the very voters that the GOP would love to keep away from the polls – low income, young voters. That has already been seen here in Florida where cut backs in precincts in Miami led to 8 hour long lines to vote during the last election – causing some people in heavily Democratic areas to not be able to vote.

    Want to increase voter turnout? Tell the GOP to stop blocking the voting booth door.

  10. Mark says:

    But then all the dead and minorities would be disenfranchised.

  11. Katie Semore says:

    It is odd to me that people can say that they have made up their minds and nothing could change it. Nothing covers an awful lot of things.

  12. DRedder says:

    Agreed regardless of party or type of race , early voting is ripe for manipulation. Go back to the term “Election Day” if you can’t get to your polling place from opening to closing time there’s the absentee ballot. If you’re serious about the issue or the candidate you’ll make it there.

  13. Geezer says:

    Those who voted early never knew that Bill Cosby just announced his unconditional,
    enthusiastic, and unwavering support for Donald Trump.

    Time for a Jello Pudding Pop.

  14. Richard S. says:

    Two days should be enough – Monday and Tuesday(traditional day).

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