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October 14, 2012

Column: Early voting deflates value of Election Day

What is the point of presidential debates, or even presidential campaigning in October?

Lots of people make that argument, based on what they say is historical evidence that debates and even a final blizzard of ads and campaign events don’t sway the electorate – that by a month before the election, voters have already made up their minds.

But, these days, you could make another, more mathematical argument: There is decreasing significance in presidential candidate debate because millions of people, even if they did change their minds, couldn’t do anything about it. They have already voted.

That’s right – Election Day is becoming increasingly irrelevant because of early voting, which is now allowed in 32 states and the District of Columbia. According to most estimates, 35-40 percent of voters nationwide will have cast their ballots before “Election Day,” and 85 percent are eligible to do it. Around 15 percent could have voted before the first presidential debate.

In 31 states, you don’t even need an excuse – a hardship like being unable to get to the polls due to sickness, business or military service – to vote early.

According to the Associated Press, as of last week, 29,400 voters had already cast ballots in North Carolina, and four years ago, 2.6 million people in the state had voted before Election Day. In Florida, nearly 4.6 million voters cast ballots before Election Day in 2008. In Colorado, more than 1.2 million absentee ballots have been requested.

What was that about an election being decided by a football stadium’s worth of people?

Both campaigns ought to be decrying this. Instead, they are encouraging it, trying to pump up the early vote. A number of news reports said Democrats, in the wake of President Obama’s poor performance in the first debate with Republican Mitt Romney, were frantically trying to “bank” early votes before people could change their minds.

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