In determining when and how our national elections will be held, the Constitution is very brief – entrusting that determination to the Congress. Clause Four of the Second Article states:
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing [sic] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
Congress set the day of the election — and the vote of the Electoral College in the case of the presidency — for the Tuesday following the first Monday of November and for the first Monday after December 12, respectively.
States and local government may choose their own election days. Hence, they do not always coincide with federal elections. When they do, it is merely for convenience and cost saving.
The operative word in the Constitution and the law is “day.” The Founders intended that all eligible citizens would come to polling places to caste their ballots in person on a single day. For most of our existence as a republic, that is how it was done.
During the Civil War, the first absentee voting was inaugurated to allow solders in battle to vote. That was repeated during World War I. Absentee voting in general is said to have started in 1922, when the Louisiana legislature established “in-person absentee voting.”
What is today termed to be “early voting” developed in the late Twentieth Century. It needs to be understood that “absentee voting” was a far different concept than “early voting.” One had to have a very valid reason why it would be impossible to vote at the polling place on Election Day. To use the absentee option without valid reason was a criminal offense.
Early voting – that had its start as a reform to encourage participation in California in the 1970s, when the State introduced what they called “no excuse absentee balloting.” That put the decision to cast a ballot before Election Day up to discretion rather than necessity. Since then early voting has expanded to many states and to earlier starting dates – often weeks before the official day of the election. It is now found in democracies throughout the world.
While absentee voting seemed like a good idea at the time, early voting has proven to be too much of a good thing. In fact, it is a very bad way to run elections. There are two major problems.
For all its benefits, absentee voting was the opportunity for vote fraud on a massive scale – largely because there is no assurance that the actual voter cast the ballot. A large number of concentrated absentee ballots often came from nursing homes and senior care facilities. The common corruption was for political operatives to secure and cast the ballots for seniors – often without their knowledge. Some patients were even beyond any mental ability to vote – suffering dementia or in a coma.
Since there is was no official supervision of the casting of the ballot. Individuals would be offered bribes to allow the campaign or party operative to mark the ballot.
Using these methods, a single political operative could “harvest” dozens and even hundreds of ballots to be turned in at the election headquarters.
This issue was somewhat mitigated by requiring early voters to cast their vote at a government facility or designated location. But it is still susceptible to undue partisan influence
Early voting may marginally increase participation. But studies suggest that the vast majority of those who vote early would have voted on Election Day.
On the other hand, it does deprive voter of full knowledge of the issues and events of the various campaigns. Put quite simply – early voters will be casting their ballots with less critical information than those who wait for election day. This is especially true since campaigns often strategize events and statements to impact in the few days before Election day.
This problem is borne out by the number of voters who would have changed their early vote based on new developments – as opposed to the few who would have changed their ballot cast on Election Day.
In recent primaries, we have seen where the presidential debate directed at the voters of Nevada took place AFTER a large percentage of Nevadans had already voted. For Super Tuesday, that problem was amplified.
Conventional wisdom suggested that Former Vice President Joe Biden’s overwhelming victory would give him momentum going into Super Tuesday. But in California – with the biggest number of delegates at stake – more than half of Democrat voters had already cast their ballots – at a time when Biden looked like a loser and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was riding the crest of three primary victories.
It is very arguable that Biden – suddenly looking like a serious challenger — would have done better in California had those votes been cast on Election Day. He would have likely picked up votes from Buttigieg, Klobuchar, late-entering billionaire Michael Bloomberg and even billionaire Tom Steyer, who dropped out. Ponder all those people who voted early for Steyer – and cannot now make their vote count.
It is very possible that Biden will be denied a number of delegates solely due to early voting.
Encouraging greater voter participation is a good thing – but there are better ways to do it. Congress could move Election Day to a Saturday, when most voters are not working. Election Day could be moved up earlier in the year to avoid that snowy cold winters in the north. Even better, declare Election Day a national holiday. It would be almost unpatriotic not to do that.
Early voting is a well-intentioned reform with too many unanticipated negative consequences. But in a nation that is getting less interested and lazier about our civics, changing to a better system is not likely to happen.
So, there ‘tis.
Article By Larry Horist