Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Early Voting Is Not A Luxury, But An Ethical Duty for Citizens

Posted by Alan Childress

Voting "the day of" is a scarce resource in many precincts, especially those with long lines and for voters whose jobs or responsibilities make it hard or impossible to wait more than a half hour.  So I regard using early voting as a near necessity in states that offer it, and voting the day of potentially as a wasteful exercise or at least a luxury item.  I will go further and make the claim that those who can vote early have a citizen's ethical responsibility to do so, at least in areas at serious risk of having long waits or administrative disruptions that prevent others in good faith from voting.

I don't think that is a Versus issue (democrat: republican, conservative: liberal).  It is a citizen's thing, in a democracy that holds its elections on workdays and cannot equally ensure short lines.  Give Louisiana (yes, Louisiana!) some credit on this front: we have Saturday elections for the local races except when coupled to a mandatory federal date.  That is another one of Huey Long's gifts that keep on giving.  Since states are unable (or unwilling) to give everyone the same feasible wait times, and even in the best of circumstances Muurphy's Lwa may kick in or machines can malfunction -- witness Homer Simpson's efforts to vote this year for a President -- every precinct is at risk of essentially turning away intended voters.  Some predictably more than others, which is where I think the ethical duty lies to vote early if possible.

I came to this conclusion in response to U Miami's Professor Michael Froomkin's interesting musings on his blog as to whether to vote early in Miami.  To me, especially for him in Florida, it is a no-brainer.  I get his point:  he waxes nostalgic about the collective emotional feel of participation that he has long felt the day of elections, walking to his polling place (and makes a nice aside about the fact that it is a Catholic church) and waiting his turn.  He writes, "I’ve never voted early — there’s something about the democratic ritual of the polls, plus the convenience of the local site, only a few blocks from home, that makes it very appealing."  I hope he will develop a new fond memory with the early voting process. 

I actually share that sense of "day of" excitement and do not belittle it.  I totally get that and can easily remember my first time too.  I think many of us feel that way.  But nowadays such participation is a luxury that runs the risk of hording a finite resource at the expense of others.  Think of it this way. It feels luxurious because it is a luxury. If you vote the day of, you will be one extra person in a line. Someone less committed to this election than you (or just someone who has a job that allows a short window of voting time) will see that line and walk away.  (I am not talking about minor inconvenience where you just fail to accommodate the tepid voter who has zero patience.) The more all of us can do to make the lines shorter that day, the more that others can vote. Especially in places like Florida, that matters. Until voting officials make it easy for everyone to vote on election day without lines, the opportunity to vote that day is a scarce resource that should not be horded or enjoyed for the luxury that it is (for anyone who can vote early).

If you can vote early and manage the inconvenience of that, why not help out the voter who cannot, and runs this risk of facing a long line the day of while thinking of their kid sitting on the front stoop at school.

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Your argument that a citizen has a duty to vote early presupposes that a citizen has a duty to vote. This is a hotly contested issue. In my own case, I had the option of participating in the Belgian elections but chose not to do so. One of the reasons I did not is because I did not agree with their making voting mandatory.

As for voting early, one could make the opposite argument. Surely a voter has a duty to inform himself fully prior to voting? Obviously, the longer a voter waits, the more information he will have.


Posted by: FixedWing | Oct 22, 2008 8:18:56 AM

1. Isn't this a bit off topic?
2. Doesn't voting early decrease the time for deliberation?

Posted by: Jeremiah | Oct 22, 2008 9:46:49 AM

I think Stephen and Jeremiah make good points, especially about fuller information. I was not so worried about it in this year, because I am pretty sure of my [quite disparate] choices in the various races for which I am eligible to vote. That may not be true in many years, or to many people to whom I directed my comment. I don't believe Early Voting is an ideal; I wish our society would commit to a day-of (or two-day) voting date that is truly structured to make voting feasible for large populations and accommodates those with legitimate reasons why waiting an hour to vote is a problem. In 2004, that was not provided, and the long lines were faced disparately among various geographic groups. Early Voting is a compromise, but I still urge it for people who think the timing is appropriate to their decisionmaking calculus -- and especially if they are only waiting to vote for some nostalgic reason, please let someone else have that day-of slot that appears to be a finite resource.

I just voted early, and it took nearly two hours, but was done comfortably and politely. I have no complaints. But if the line I was in is anything like what they will have the day of, some people will effectively be cut off from voting. How much worse would that be if I and others with me today had waited till Nov. 4.

And yes I was way off topic, but I appreciate the insightful feedback from both of you.

Posted by: Alan Childress | Oct 22, 2008 11:08:39 AM

Early voting seems like a fraud to me. What is this? Election Day or Election Month? It is a scam that can be used for massive voter fraud. Maybe a 2 day voter time but there is NO DOUBT our election process is filled with fraud( particularly from Democrats, ACORN,etc.) Again, maybe 2 days to free up lines but what the hell is this Election Day or Election Month? Man, Republicans have let the Democrats get away with so much Bs including that "motor voter" crap. Nobody should be forced to vote and if they lack the interest to vote, then they should NOT VOTE. I don't want ignorant, disinterested zombies coming out to vote only because it may be racial or religious reasons. I can't believe such laws are constitutional. It sounds good "on paper" to have as many people participate in the electoral process. But in reality, if you are so damn lazy or disinterested, I don't think basically HANDING you a voter card is good for this country. But again, it is a Democrat scheme and we all know it.

Posted by: Ron | Oct 25, 2008 2:21:12 PM

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