Wednesday, October 22, 2008
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.