Voting is already under way in much of the country, well before the first Tuesday in November. More than two-thirds of Americans live in states or localities that permit early voting, an innovation designed to increase voter turnout. According to a recent report in The New York Times, turnout has increased only slightly in recent years, despite the convenience of voting by mail. But that doesn’t mean early voting hasn't had an impact.
Some lament the lack of public spirit, of collective endeavor, that voting alone at your kitchen table entails. But there are other reasons to begrudge early voting. Campaigns have beginnings, middles, ends. Some are dull throughout while others unfold like a thriller, the outcome uncertain until the final page. Still others are wrenched in wild directions by late developments — a botched debate, a character flaw exposed, a policy blunder. To vote early in such instances is to vote prematurely, like a jury deciding a case before the evidence is in. Early voting also has another dubious consequence: It favors the wealthiest candidate. With voting extended over multiple weeks, poorer campaigns are frequently off the air (and out of the mailbox) during the first weeks of voting. Zillionaires, meanwhile, can flood the airwaves unanswered in the early going, gaining yet another advantage from wealth. The convenience of early voting is undeniable—for the elderly, the disabled, or even the routinely harried. But as in so many instances, convenience has its price. Buyer’s remorse, that doleful byproduct of the franchise, was once kept at bay until after November. For October's early voters, it can settle in before next month’s ballots have even been counted.