Voting before Election Day has caught on, but its full impact has not yet been weighed.
The 2008 presidential campaign has been chockablock with superlatives. Longest. Most expensive. First black nominee. A record number of registered voters. The most YouTubed. But one major change worth watching – with both joy and worry – is that a third of voters will have cast a ballot before Nov. 4, or double eight years ago.
Much can be said for early voting, either the old-fashioned kind – by absentee ballot sent in by mail with a legitimate excuse – and increasingly, voting by mail with no excuse or in-person a couple weeks before an election.
Who wants to compete for parking at voting places, stand in long lines, face bad weather, give up work time, or deal with Election Day procedural snafus? Democracy may be a responsibility and a duty but it shouldn't be a messy chore.
In Florida, so many people cast an early ballot last month that voting hours were extended. In some states with the newly allowed "no excuse" early voting, nearly half of registered voters have already "gone to the polls." The new convenience and an eagerness to vote in this exciting election may explain the high numbers.
Proponents of early voting say it increases turnout, especially among low-income voters. But experts who track this trend say evidence for increased voting has been slim. Rather, politicians especially like early voting. It allows them to "lock up" votes of dedicated supporters, saving money or sometimes influencing an election. Hillary Clinton may have won the Feb. 5 California primary because she focused on early balloting among women.