Does early voting damage democracy?

Forget Nov. 6. More than two dozen states have already started voting

A sign lets voters know they can cast early ballots for the Florida primary election on. Jan. 27.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We won't find out who won the presidential race until Nov. 6 (or later), but the election has actually already started. As of last weekend, people in 25 states can already vote through excuse-free absentee ballots or early in-person voting. That means six weeks before Election Day, half the country can cast ballots — and skip the presidential debates, ignore unpredictable world events and hidden videos, and TiVO away the political ads. And a record 35 percent of voters probably will cast their ballots early, according to George Mason University's Michael McDonald. "This is a problem for many reasons," says Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller. Among them: Early voting is expensive for states and campaigns, sends voters to the polls prematurely, and most importantly, "doesn't work." In fact, "researchers at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated that early voting can actually depress turnout" — largely by mitigating get-out-the-vote efforts, and diminishing the civic engagement attraction of Election Day. Could the effort to expand voting opportunities actually be bad for democracy?

Yes. Early voting is a "travesty": The first problem with early voting is that it isn't fair, says Ed Lasky at American Thinker. Letting people lock in their votes before the "debates can enlighten voters," ads can educate them, and bad jobs numbers can reflect poorly on the incumbent "is a travesty." Then there's the issue of fraud with absentee ballots. Yet sadly, "few critics have pointed out how damaging early voting can be to our democracy."

"The early voting travesty"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Huh? Early voting is good for democracy: Most of the opposition's reasons are nonsense, says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. Absentee-ballot fraud is a myth, the cost issue is either the campaigns' problem or up to the voters of each state, and the study about early voting depressing turnout "relies on torturing the data with so many vague and glossy 'variables'... that it becomes a very murky soup." Besides, as a general rule, opposing "extended voting opportunities is an idea which immediately sets off alarms for me," as it should for anyone who values participatory democracy.

"Should there be early voting?"

Like it or not, early voting may kill Election Day: Early voting is gaining ground — and that's kind of sad for civic engagement, University of Wisconsin political scientist Barry Burden tells the AP. "Before early voting took off, you could go into your workplace and see co-workers with 'I voted' stickers on their lapels," and "your children's school might be a polling place." Election Day was a community and media event, and it was "hard to miss." If early voting eventually relegates the first Tuesday in November to the nostalgia bin, many "people who are on the edge of voting" probably won't cross the finish line.

"Vote early: Skip the lines, maybe the debates, too"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.