Early Birds Get the Ballot

I've heard some people asking why the presidential debates are so early. The first one is on Friday and the final one is October 15, twenty ...
by | September 22, 2008
 

I've heard some people asking why the presidential debates are so early. The first one is on Friday and the final one is October 15, twenty days before Election Day.

A better question, though: Why are the debates so late?

Millions of voters will cast their ballots before the final debate takes places. Some already will have made their decisions before any of the McCain-Obama clashes. From USA Today :

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Voters by the thousands will begin casting ballots for president this week in an early voting process that's expected to set records this year.

Residents of Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia are among the first in the nation eligible to vote in person, as well as by mail. During the next few weeks, at least 34 states and the District of Columbia will allow early in-person voting for Nov. 4 elections.

Experts such as Paul Gronke of the Early Voting Information Center predict nearly a third of the electorate will vote early this year, up from 15% in 2000 and 20% in 2004. In closely contested Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, about half the voters are expected to cast ballots before Election Day. Florida could be 40%.

(Hat tip: Political Wire)

All of this relates to one of the standard criticisms of early voting: Voters aren't making their choices with the same set of information. Early voters don't get to learn as much about the candidates as those who vote on Election Day.

I'd presume, however, that early voters are almost exclusively people who have a strong preference for one of the candidates. If you're undecided, why not just wait?

Of course, some voters might be less decided than they realize. Election officials in states that allow early voting regularly encounter requests to change votes that have already been cast.

Plus, just because a voter has a strong preference in the presidential race, that doesn't mean that he or she has a strong preference for every election. A voter who casts his ballot in September is probably somewhat less likely to know a lot about the races for city council or school board or dogcatcher. 

None of this suggests to me that there's anything fundamentally wrong with early voting. If voters want to cast their ballots with less than complete information, that's their choice. No one is forced to vote before Election Day. But, it does suggest that even down to the lowest level offices, campaigns had better start adjusting to a very different schedule.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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