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The case against mail-in voting

Early voting is now underway in more than half the states. While mail-in and early voting have their merits, I don’t just want my vote to count; I want the act of voting to count. I want to stand in line, the longer the better, and practice civility with those in my community.

A voter registration form and absentee ballot application form are pictured at a Franklin County polling location on the first day of in-person absentee voting in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 2. Op-ed contributor Jim Sollisch writes: 'We have so few opportunities these days to stand shoulder to shoulder with other citizens....I can’t help wishing [Mitt Romney and others] had to spend more time rubbing elbows with the 47 percent....So if you haven’t mailed in your ballot yet, consider Election Day an invitation to a wonderful Open House in the heart of your neighborhood.'

Matt Sullivan/Reuters

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Roughly 30 percent of the ballots cast in the 2008 presidential election were cast early and mostly by mail. CNN estimates that the number of early voters may reach 40 percent in this upcoming election. Right now, voting is going on in more than half the states.

Many secretaries of state love early voting: fewer chances for voting machine malfunctions, hanging chads, voter ID skirmishes. And it’s easier on the system – the electoral equivalent of utility companies getting customers to spread out their electric use to avoid big spikes.

The post office has to love early voting by mail. That’s a lot of business, and, boy, do they need it.

Many lovers of democracy also love early voting because it increases access for the elderly, the infirm, and working people who can’t afford time away from the job.

But some fans of democracy and civic engagement aren’t too fond of the idea. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute put it this way in a 2004 piece in the Economist:

“In America, individuals join their neighbors at a local polling place, underscoring their role as a part of a collective society, then go into a curtained booth to make their choices as free individuals. Every conceivable step should be taken to make the votes cast on Election Day easy to do – longer hours, ample poll workers and voting machines, easier registration, and so on. But we should not make voting the equivalent of sending in a Publishers Clearing House contest form.”

I share Mr. Ornstein's views. I vote "no" on mail-in voting.

I don’t just want my vote to count; I want the act of voting to count. I want to stand in line, the longer the better, and mingle with my neighbors. I want to make small talk with the earnest and dedicated senior citizens working the polls. I want the act of punching my ballot to connect me to my grandparents who came to this country at the turn of the last century in part so they could have a voice in their government. I want to stand symbolically in line with my black brothers and sisters who fought and died for voting rights as recently as the 1960s.


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