The Trouble with Early Voting | National Review Online

John Fund

John Fund

Early and absentee voting have their place, but they are becoming the rule not the exception.

The headline in Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper this weekend says it all: “People Who Vote Before Election Could Decide Outcome of Governor’s Race.”

In Florida, a third of the electorate will vote by mail, a third will vote early by going to a voting center, and a third will cast their ballots on Election Day. Nationwide, some 2 million people have already voted, even though scheduled debates haven’t even finished in many states. We are seeing an early-voting craze: In 35 states, people can vote early without having to give an excuse for missing Election Day. That’s up from 20 states just over a decade ago. Half the states also allow no-excuse absentee-ballot voting by mail. Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have abolished the traditional polling place; in those states almost everyone votes by mail.

“In reality, the days of an actual election ‘day’ are long gone,” Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida and director of the United States Election Project, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a solid election month, if not more in some places, and will continue to expand.”

There’s no doubt that many people in our increasingly mobile and hectic society want voting to be as easy and convenient as buying fast food. But too much of anything can be bad — just ask someone who has gorged on drive-thru burgers and fries. A new poll by the Huffington Post, conducted by YouGov, found that nearly half of adults say they vote before Election Day at least sometimes, and a third say they do it often. We should listen to what cautionary voices are telling us before we redefine ourselves as a nation of convenience voters and abandon one of the only remaining occasions on which Americans come together as a nation to perform a collective civic duty.

The notion of Election Day isn’t just a tradition; it’s in the Constitution. Article II, Section 1 states that “Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Congress codified this requirement in 1872 by setting a uniform presidential election date. But in a rare bow to the notion of federalism, today’s courts have nonetheless been reluctant to invalidate state laws that go against this dictate. In 2002, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Oregon’s vote-by-mail law because of “a long history of congressional tolerance” toward absentee voting. It rejected arguments from the Voting Integrity Project that Oregon’s effective end to voting in person represented “the difference between the exception to the rule and the exception that swallows the rule.”

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