Home/Daniel Larison/The Virtues of Early Voting

The Virtues of Early Voting

John Fund identifies some problems with early voting. This is the least persuasive part of the argument:

Gans and other observers are also concerned that early voters won’t have the same information as those who vote on Election Day. They may miss out on candidate debates or be unable to factor in other late-developing election events. “Those who vote a month in advance are saying they don’t care about weighing all the facts,” says Adams, the former Justice Department official. One secretary of state I interviewed compared early voting that takes place before debates are finished with jurors in a trial who stand up in the middle of testimony and say they’ve heard enough and are ready to render a verdict.

Critics of early voting that warn about fraud have a fair point, but the complaint that early voters won’t be as well-informed as later voters is not persuasive. Yes, it’s possible that there could be some huge revelation in the final weeks before an election that would disqualify a candidate in the eyes of some voters, but it seems very unlikely to happen in most cases. If some voters are worried that they might be “missing out” on relevant information, they are free to wait.

It is rarely the case that something comes out about a candidate that is relevant and wasn’t previously known in the last few weeks of a campaign. It can happen, but it doesn’t happen often enough to justify curtailing early voting. As for information gleaned from debates, how often do candidates say anything genuinely interesting or newsworthy at these events? For that matter, how often does debate coverage contribute significantly to informing the public? If there are a lot of Floridians that voted before “Fangate,” they made a decision less influenced by trivial nonsense than those that have not yet voted.

The claim that early voters are “saying they don’t care about weighing all the facts” is silly. It would be more accurate to say that early voters are already sure enough in how they are going to vote that they don’t need any more information. Waiting a few more weeks isn’t going to change how they’ll vote, and it is probably the case that they have made at least as much effort to inform themselves about the candidates as voters that wait. In some cases, they are probably going to be better-informed overall than the people that show up on Election Day.

The advantages of allowing early voting are plain enough. Being able to vote during a three or four-week period is more convenient for a much larger number of people. If early voting doesn’t contribute to increased turnout and hasn’t prevented decreased turnout, it still makes it possible for more voters to participate than if the option weren’t available. For all the talk of coming together “as a nation to perform a collective civic duty,” most eligible American voters don’t show up at the polls, and that should alert us that early voting–or its absence–isn’t the problem. If most Americans are not inclined to do their civic duty, the voting period could be several weeks or limited to just a few days and it wouldn’t matter. At least with a an early voting system there is no excuse that there wasn’t enough time.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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