11.09.10 Rethinking Early Voting
This is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local.
There have been a couple of recent issues about which I’ve disagreed with my friend Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews (D-District 3). (I mean “my friend” in the literal sense, rather than the political one.) One is the ambulance fee, on which he won and I (and, I think, the county) lost. So much for that.
The other issue that Phil has tried over and over to convince me on is early voting. My view has been that anything that makes voting easier isipso facto good, especially in a political system infamous for keeping citizens from the polls. Hurdles to participation include everything from weekday balloting (why Tuesday?), to obtuse registration processes, to voter suppression tactics such as this Election Day’s robocall effort by the Ehrlich campaign to convince African American voters not to go to the polls. Phil, meanwhile, has argued that allowing early voting poses the danger that voters won’t be able to take into account important last-minute developments.
What has finally convinced me that Phil is right is Sen. Mike Lenett’s “Campaign of Darkness” in the final week or so before September’s Democratic primary. As I worked a District 19 polling place on Sept. 12, I heard voter after voter talk about how Lenett’s last-minute mailings displaying anti-Muslim bigotry and using Holocaust imagery had turned them into Roger Manno voters. It hit me hard, then, that folks who thought they were doing their civic duty by turning out early missed out on a substantial piece of information.
I’ve also thought about the dilemma faced by poorly financed challengers. They need to husband their resources to get mailings (or other publicity) before voters at precisely the right moment. If that “moment” turns about to be weeks long, they have even less of a prayer against well-financed opponents, who can keep intense publicity going as long as it takes.
I still think the fact of Tuesday elections requires work-arounds to encourage turnout. But I now believe – as Phil does – that any early-voting period needs to be very short – providing a bit more convenience for voters without skewing outcomes. Let’s hear it for a three- or four-day voting period that includes a weekend. And let’s make sure that we don’t prevent the Mike Lenetts of the world from being able to self-destruct at the last minute!
©2010 Keith Berner