It is said that about two thirds, maybe more, of Democrats who participated in the Nevada Caucuses of a few days ago had voted, using early voting, prior to the nationally televised and widely watched Democratic presidential debate in which Elizabeth Warren performed so well that pollsters and pundits assumed she would gain a significant boost. But because most of the voters voted before Warren’s very good day, nothing happened.
An uninformed vote is not as good as an informed vote. In the dynamic electoral process in which we undeniably live, especially during a primary, an early vote is a less informed vote, and thus, not as good as a vote on voting day itself.
Early voting and similar programs were created to make it possible for more people to get to the polls. It was not created to help a majority of voters become less informed. Yet, it seems to have had that effect.
Meanwhile, we have placed early voting on a pedestal it does not deserve to be on. During the last election cycle, I witnessed the same scene several times. At the launch of a door-to-door canvas, the organizer implores the volunteers, who will be knocking on scores of doors to engage potential voters, to remember to remind people that they can vote early. Why? Because early voting is how we win! When challenged, when asked how we win by voting earlier instead of later, the response was usually simple and almost cult like: When we vote early we win!
What is behind that idea? This: When early voting started to happen, Democrats did a lot of it, and at the same time, this increased Democratic turnout. (After a few years of early voting in a region, this effect might in some cases flatten out and early voting stops favoring one party.) More turnout is thought to help Democrats, and more Democratic turnout, obviously, helps Democrats. So, early voting gave Democrats a leg up. Why does early voting help Democrats? Because early voting offsets the limitations some people have with respect to time, health, mobility, etc. Republican tend to not have these negative priv-points. Republicans just have the priv. They can mostly vote on election day because they are more likely to be the ones in charge of deciding where other people go, or to have the resources to overcome what might to others be limitations. It is also probably true that Republicans are more politically disciplined than Democrats. A very typical community might have 40% Republicans and 55% Democrats, but Republicans win with margins of 52-48% at the voting booth, because Republicans all get out to vote and Democrats often don’t. But in years when Democrats really rock the vote, they win, barely, in those same places by increasing turnout. It is an old and tried and tested formula. The first 5-8% of extra turnout may be something like 70% Democratic.
This makes early voting a good thing for Democrats, all else being equal.
What has been missed, though, is that people who were going to vote anyway, no matter what, don’t get a better vote when they vote early. Their vote is not worth more. Their vote does not do more, or get more, or count for more. But, it is a vote they may be casting and regretting.
Vote early if you need to. If not, don’t fetishize the ability to vote early. Don’t think your early vote is a better vote. Stop trying to talk everybody into always doing it. Don’t be a totally time-abled and physical-abled person and run around bragging that you voted two months early in the middle of a rapidly changing context. Your vote might be a less informed vote, and thus, not as good as a vote you cast on election day.
Having early voting as an option is a good thing. Actually voting early, way early, when you don’t have to, is not necessarily a good thing.