The Endless Campaign
At the same time that the “official” political campaigns have lengthened, so too have the periods allowed in which registered voters may cast their ballot for the candidates of their choice. More and more, states are either allowing unrestricted early voting (i.e., no presumption that the voter will be absent from his precinct on election day) or are expanding the justifications for early voting.
This national trend toward increasingly unrestricted early voting is unmistakable: an estimated 12.7 million in 2000 (12 percent), 25 million in 2004 (about 20 percent), and at least 40 million in 2008 (about 33 percent). Pennsylvania is the earliest to mail out ballots to voters – this year on August 26th to mail ballots although it is not among the 33 states that require a reason for voting absentee.
There is a down side – or at least a potential down side – to this trend should it become a majority of the final vote count. This year’s contest illustrates the danger. During the major party nominating conventions, the major concern of the public and the main theme sounded by the candidates was national defense,
Less than four weeks later, the debacle that has overtaken U.S. and global financial structures and institutions and commodity, currency, and credit markets broke wide open. For whatever reason – the slow administration reaction to the collapse, Senator McCain’s assertion that “fundamentals were sound” or Senator Obama’s press briefing standing in front of a number of “experts” who have been advising him on the economy – more voters (according to polls) believe the Democrats would be better with the economy than would Republicans. Had the economic sector tailspin started near the end of October instead of when it did, a large number of early voters could suddenly have regretted their precipitous action.
Moreover, once people vote, that human tendency to pay attention only to what is of immediate concern kicks in – and early voters will tend to put politics and the political campaign aside – but do so at their own risk.
I’m not opposed to early absentee voting, but I do think that some time limit ought to be agreed among the states (which have the final say on this matter). There are enough other controversies about voter eligibility, voter registration, and the security and accuracy of voting machines without adding the prospect that in some future election, early voters might be “hoodwinked” into believing that they can trust the political pros. If that’s the only alternative, maybe the “endless campaign” deserves another look.