Commentary Magazine


Topic: early voting

Is Early Voting a Right or a Dem Tactic?

What will make the difference in the Democrats’ efforts to hold onto the Senate? Is it the unpopularity of President Obama? Or perhaps it’s the collapse of U.S. foreign policy? ObamaCare? According to the New York Times, policy may not be the crucial factor in determining whether, for example, embattled Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan retains her North Carolina seat. Rather, the Times asserts, it may be the altered rules for voting in the Tarheel State that will reduce the number of days in which North Carolinians may vote early from 17 to 10, a move that Democrats have denounced as racist in nature. But while turnout will be a crucial factor in the outcome, the notion that the amount of early voting days is a measure of a state’s commitment to voting rights or to the fight against racism is a partisan and pernicious myth.

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What will make the difference in the Democrats’ efforts to hold onto the Senate? Is it the unpopularity of President Obama? Or perhaps it’s the collapse of U.S. foreign policy? ObamaCare? According to the New York Times, policy may not be the crucial factor in determining whether, for example, embattled Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan retains her North Carolina seat. Rather, the Times asserts, it may be the altered rules for voting in the Tarheel State that will reduce the number of days in which North Carolinians may vote early from 17 to 10, a move that Democrats have denounced as racist in nature. But while turnout will be a crucial factor in the outcome, the notion that the amount of early voting days is a measure of a state’s commitment to voting rights or to the fight against racism is a partisan and pernicious myth.

As with their somewhat desultory efforts to exploit concerns over the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri into a rallying cry to turn out African Americans to vote for their candidates in the midterms, Democrats see allegations of racism as crucial to their efforts. That’s especially true in southern states where minorities are their key constituencies.

For the past few years, liberals have sought to assert that Republicans were doing nothing less than seeking to inaugurate a new era of Jim Crow racism by promoting voter-integrity laws that required voters to produce a picture ID to identify themselves before casting a ballot. Though most Americans believe it is nothing more than a commonsense measure, Democrats take it as an article of faith that asking someone to identify themselves by the same method required to perform virtually any transaction or to travel is racist in nature. That’s a stretch under any circumstances, but at least they can point to some statistics that show minorities are less likely to have a picture ID–though they fail to explain why they think they are less capable of obtaining a free one from the state than other citizens.

But whatever the merits of photo ID laws, the emphasis on early voting as a principle of non-racist society is baffling.

Much of the country has embraced the concept of early voting in order to broaden participation in elections. Where once the act of coming to the polls on Election Day was considered a sacred civil rite in which all should participate, many now believe that letting people vote by mail or offering opportunities to vote weeks in advance of the end of the campaign is essential to broadening the electorate.

But while one can make an argument for making voting more convenient, it’s not clear why minorities stand to benefit more from the practice than the rest of the population. Nor should mere convenience be confused with the right to vote.

It is something of a mystery as to why some Democrats seem to need gimmicks like early voting or votes by mail more than Republicans. Is it because the latter are intrinsically more invested in the system than those who feel themselves to be more marginal to society or the political establishment? Perhaps.

But the attempt to frame, as is the case in North Carolina, the contrast between 17 days of early voting and ten as the difference between an inclusive democracy committed to equality and a return to Jim Crow isn’t merely absurd; it’s a partisan smear.

To speak of that difference as a case of “voting restrictions,” as the Times refers to it in the headline of their article on the battle in North Carolina, is disingenuous. As it happens, the new rules allow the same number of hours for pre-election day voting in North Carolina as before, only not stretched out over as many days.

Early voting advocates ignore the complications that can arise from having so many people voting before the end of the campaign when candidate’s stands and statements can still influence in the outcome. With more than a third of the nation now not voting on Election Day, it must be understood that we are not all operating with the same information, a trend that is potentially more corrosive to democracy than adjustments in early voting schedules.

But even if we ignore that factor, much of this debate seems to revolve around an effort to herd as many voters into the polls before they can change their minds or lose interests in candidates. In that sense, early voting seems more partisan gimmicks—like straight party-line levers that were once common in many states—than an expansion of rights.

If liberals are really concerned about getting out the minority vote, they will devote more resources to building turnout and educating voters about the necessity of showing up at the polls. The hubbub about early voting or even voter ID seems geared more to creating a sense of grievance among minorities whose voting rights are not in question than anything else. Fomenting an attitude in which African Americans believe themselves to be discriminated against even as the polls remain wide open for them and everyone else is a partisan tactic for Democrats; not a matter of civil rights. That may get more of them to the polls to vote for Hagan and other Democrats. But it’s also designed to give them an excuse if they lose. As such, it’s a foolproof tactic for a party that knows it’s in trouble this fall.

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Florida’s Early Voting Meltdown

Usually Florida political parties wait until after elections to file lawsuits. This year, they’re getting an early start, reports the New York Times:

The lawsuit was filed after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where lines sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties will also be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday as long as they are cast in person.

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Usually Florida political parties wait until after elections to file lawsuits. This year, they’re getting an early start, reports the New York Times:

The lawsuit was filed after a stream of complaints from voters who sometimes waited nearly seven hours to vote or who did not vote at all because they could not wait for so long to do so.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, local election supervisors in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, where lines sometimes snaked out the door and around buildings, said they would allow voters to request and cast absentee ballots on Sunday. Voters in three other Florida counties will also be able to pick up and drop off absentee ballots. State election law permits election offices to receive absentee ballots through Tuesday as long as they are cast in person.

Early lawsuits in Florida could be a preemptive strike from Democrats in case they decide to contest Florida after the election. In 2008, 54 percent of the Florida electorate voted early, according to the Early Voting Center, a much larger percentage than other states expected to be decided by a close margin, like Ohio.

On the other hand, Florida’s early voting really does seem like a complete and utter disaster:

Chaos ensued at Miami-Dade Elections headquarters Sunday when officials closed the doors early on nearly 200 people who had been promised an extra four-hour period to vote — then reopened an hour later with more staff.

“Let us vote! Let us vote!” chanted those who refused to leave the line when doors first closed. College student Blake Yagman told The Huffington Post he was next to vote when officials decided they couldn’t serve those who showed up.

“I was there for about three and a half hours,” said Yagman, who added that because he is severely hypoglycemic he spent several hours throwing up after standing in the sun for so long. He said he had already tried to vote three times earlier this week, at two different Miami locations.

“Each of the lines was about four to five hours,” he told HuffPost. “It took my mom eight and a half hours to vote at Aventura.”

This is where the enthusiasm gap could make a significant difference. Obama had a 9-point lead over John McCain in Florida early voting in 2008. But that was when Democratic enthusiasm was outpacing Republican enthusiasm. The tables are turned this year, and it’s hard to imagine someone standing in line for eight and a half hours to vote early for a candidate they’re not really that crazy about.

Then again, it’s hard to imagine someone waiting in line for eight and a half hours to vote early for any candidate. At some point between 30 and 45 minutes, isn’t the entire convenience benefit of early voting is nullified? Florida rarely ceases to surprise me, but you would think the state would have a handle on these things after 2000.

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Obama’s Early Voting Strategy Flops?

President Obama is so invested in his campaign’s early voting strategy that he became the first sitting president to cast a ballot before election day. In case you missed the subtlety of the First Lady telling you to “vote early” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the president has started doing his stump speech in front of a giant, fluorescent “Vote Early” sign. It’s basically his campaign motto. 

And it’s not working. According to Gallup’s latest, Romney leads Obama among voters who have already cast their ballots: 

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President Obama is so invested in his campaign’s early voting strategy that he became the first sitting president to cast a ballot before election day. In case you missed the subtlety of the First Lady telling you to “vote early” on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the president has started doing his stump speech in front of a giant, fluorescent “Vote Early” sign. It’s basically his campaign motto. 

And it’s not working. According to Gallup’s latest, Romney leads Obama among voters who have already cast their ballots: 

Romney currently leads Obama 52% to 45% among voters who say they have already cast their ballots. However, that is comparable to Romney’s 51% to 46% lead among all likely voters in Gallup’s Oct. 22-28 tracking polling. At the same time, the race is tied at 49% among those who have not yet voted but still intend to vote early, suggesting these voters could cause the race to tighten. However, Romney leads 51% to 45% among the much larger group of voters who plan to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6. 

The early voting race might tighten, but Romney still has a solid lead. Assuming Gallup’s 49%-49% split among early voters who haven’t cast a ballot yet, there would be no way for Obama to overtake Romney at this point.

Note that in 2008, Obama crushed John McCain in early voting, 58 percent to 40 percent:

The Obama campaign has some practice in this arena. With significantly more resources at its disposal than rival John McCain in 2008, it made banking early votes a top priority and deployed some smart campaign tactics to that end. Of those who cast early ballots in 2008, 58 percent favored Obama, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken just before Election Day, versus McCain’s 40 percent. 

The Gallup poll is national, and the Obama campaign will probably argue it’s the early voters in swing states that matter. But signs aren’t good for Obama in Ohio early voting, either, at least compared to his 2008 record. At Politico, Adrian Gray writes:

I have always been a believer in data telling me the full story. Truth is, nobody knows what will happen on Election Day. But here is what we do know: 220,000 fewer Democrats have voted early in Ohio compared with 2008. And 30,000 more Republicans have cast their ballots compared with four years ago. That is a 250,000-vote net increase for a state Obama won by 260,000 votes in 2008. 

Could it be that Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts aren’t as unbeatable as we’re told?

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Will Early Voting Help Obama Win?

Democrats are crowing today about how their early voting operation is giving President Obama a big edge over Mitt Romney. Early voting has been a priority for the Democrats who have fought hard to preserve it in the crucial swing state of Ohio. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, they are being rewarded for this emphasis by gaining a huge edge among early voters. Reuters reports the poll says Obama leads Romney 59-31 percent among the seven percent of the electorate that has already cast their ballots. If those numbers were accurate and hold up by Election Day, that could make an enormous difference in what has otherwise been considered a tossup election. But, as the Romney campaign has pointed out, the poll doesn’t seem reliable. Nor is it necessarily indicative of what the results will be in various states.

Liberals who have been quick to pounce on any poll with an inadequate sample in the past should steer clear of this Reuters poll. Not only is the margin of error in the survey a whopping 10 percent and therefore so large as to render its results meaningless, but also the sample in each state is miniscule. As Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, pointed out in a memo, the total sample of early voters was only 361 with only 115 of them in swing states. That means the average number of early voters polled in each state is less than 10. Early voting hasn’t even begun for the general population in Colorado, the state with the highest number of early voters four years ago. More important is the identity of the groups the campaigns are targeting in their early voting turnout programs. According to Politico, the Democrats have focused on getting Obama’s base out early while the Republicans think their core voters don’t need to be rousted out to the polls before Election Day, and instead concentrate on wavering potential GOP voters. Whether the latter strategy is smarter than the former is yet to be seen. But the Reuters poll is so flimsy that it’s difficult to see why it should be taken seriously.

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Democrats are crowing today about how their early voting operation is giving President Obama a big edge over Mitt Romney. Early voting has been a priority for the Democrats who have fought hard to preserve it in the crucial swing state of Ohio. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, they are being rewarded for this emphasis by gaining a huge edge among early voters. Reuters reports the poll says Obama leads Romney 59-31 percent among the seven percent of the electorate that has already cast their ballots. If those numbers were accurate and hold up by Election Day, that could make an enormous difference in what has otherwise been considered a tossup election. But, as the Romney campaign has pointed out, the poll doesn’t seem reliable. Nor is it necessarily indicative of what the results will be in various states.

Liberals who have been quick to pounce on any poll with an inadequate sample in the past should steer clear of this Reuters poll. Not only is the margin of error in the survey a whopping 10 percent and therefore so large as to render its results meaningless, but also the sample in each state is miniscule. As Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, pointed out in a memo, the total sample of early voters was only 361 with only 115 of them in swing states. That means the average number of early voters polled in each state is less than 10. Early voting hasn’t even begun for the general population in Colorado, the state with the highest number of early voters four years ago. More important is the identity of the groups the campaigns are targeting in their early voting turnout programs. According to Politico, the Democrats have focused on getting Obama’s base out early while the Republicans think their core voters don’t need to be rousted out to the polls before Election Day, and instead concentrate on wavering potential GOP voters. Whether the latter strategy is smarter than the former is yet to be seen. But the Reuters poll is so flimsy that it’s difficult to see why it should be taken seriously.

Beeson argues there’s no point for his party to invest in a measure that would be devoted to bringing out GOP voters early that he knows will support Romney on Election Day. That may be true for high intensity Republicans, but Democrats seem to think their base needs more help and might not vote at all if they allow many of them to wait until November 6. They are probably right about that, which means their approach makes sense.

Early voting does alter some of the calculations for pollsters since once a person has voted they are invulnerable to the subsequent swings in opinion about the candidates. Democrats seem to think that since Obama has led most of the way, this limits Romney’s path to a comeback win. But since most early voting is happening now, as the Republican surges, this is not a compelling argument for either candidate.

Even if the Reuters poll was accurate — and there is no rational reason to think that it is — it doesn’t mean that Obama should view early voting as his path to re-election. It is just a device to increase turnout among sections of the public who cannot be relied upon to vote without this sort of aid. But there is also no reason to think that exponentially more Democrats will vote early than Republicans nationwide. As Beeson says, of those voters who have requested ballots but have yet to turn in their vote, Democrats hold only a six percent registration edge. Another wild card here is the military vote that may not be so favorable for the Democrats.

That means there is much less than meets the eye to the early voting hoopla. No matter who has what is liable to be a small edge in this category, it won’t decide anything.

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