Posted by Curt on 5 September, 2016 at 3:39 pm. 1 comment.


Jim Geraghty:

In North Carolina, voters may request and mail in absentee ballots for any reason beginning Friday. In Alabama, absentee voting begins September 14. Voters in Minnesota and South Dakota can hand in their ballots as early as September 23.

In 37 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a specified period before Election Day. This includes Oregon, Washington, and Colorado — which automatically mail ballots to all voters. In 2012, a little more than 31 percent of Americans cast their ballot before Election Day.

Early voting now represents a good idea run amok. New laws that aimed to make casting a ballot easier and more convenient for busy voters have created Election Month. In some states, voters have six weeks to pull the lever. “Campaign season” has become “voting season.” Candidates’ political operations may find these rules particularly convenient — every vote you know you’ve turned out before Election Day is one less you have to worry about on a particular Tuesday in November — but the trend will almost inevitably come back to bite voters.

The argument for allowing votes to be cast in a limited number of days before Election Day makes sense. Responsible, motivated voters can find themselves unexpectedly hindered on the traditional date. In 2008, an ice storm blew into the Washington D.C. area the day of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia primaries. Maryland kept its polls open for an extra 90 minutes, but most Virginia counties closed their polls as scheduled, leading to grumbling that some voters who planned on casting ballots after work couldn’t make it because of snarled traffic.

But even-earlier dates for voting means that a significant portion of the ballots — perhaps more than a third this year — will be officially cast before the campaign’s final days. Campaigns can always try to adjust by moving up the release of their “October surprise” opposition research — as when Al Gore allies put out information on the previously unknown arrest of George W. Bush for driving under the influence. (The arrest was revealed too late to be a literal October surprise; it was reported November 2, 2000.)

But consequential world events don’t pay attention to the election calendar: Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard October 29, 2012; Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, triggering the Wall Street meltdown. On October 29, 2004, the Al-Jazeera television network aired a new videotaped message from Osama bin Laden, his first message in more than a year.

We can only guess what will happen in the final weeks before Election Day 2016. After WikiLeaks released a trove of e-mails from the Democratic National Committee in August, Democrats began to speculate (and worry) about additional leaks of embarrassing information to come.

This year, the earliest of ballots will be cast before any of the three presidential debates or the vice-presidential debate.

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