The Mixed Blessings of Early Voting
Early voting starts tomorrow. As a voter, I like it, sort of. As a citizen of our democracy, I'm not so sure it's a good idea. As a newspaper editor, I hate it.
I'll come back to the newspaper thing in a minute. First the voter part:
I took advantage of the then-novel opportunity to vote early two years ago, in the general election of 2008. I just wanted to see what it was like. Like lots of other voters, I also wanted to avoid the rush and keep from having to stand in long lines as voters labored through a lengthy presidential-year -ballot. That's the main reason North Carolina and other states have gone to early voting in recent years: voter convenience.
But even then, it felt funny - as if it wasn't quite the real thing.
Then there's the citizen part:
I thought the Constitution of the United States specified that there was to be an Election Day - and that Congress long ago established it as falling on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. What's the point of deciding to spread it all over the weeks leading up to that climactic date?
Again, the main impetus seems to be convenience. Lots of people have to work on Election Day. Or maybe they'll be out of town then. Or serving in the military. So they might miss a chance to make their voices heard at the polling places. But isn't that what absentee ballots have always been for?
Think of it. In the early days of the Republic, people rode to polling places on horseback and filled out paper ballots, which were counted by hand under candlelight. And still it all got done in timely fashion. Now we've all got cars, and our votes are cast and tallied by computers - and still it's asking too much to pull it off in one day?
Now for the newspaper part:
This year, as always, we at The Pilot are planning to run a series of candidate profiles on news pages and endorsements on the opinion pages. This being an off-year election, there aren't as many to cover in the fall as there were two years ago and will be two years in the future. Many of the important decisions got made in last spring's primaries.
In years past, in any case, it was enough to get the candidates interviewed and the stories and editorials printed by a few days before Election Day. No more. With the advent of early voting, the pressure is on to rush the stuff into print more quickly, lest it start getting more and more irrelevant. And even then, significant numbers of people will already have voted by that time.
The early voting fad has put -newspapers across the country in a bit of a bind. There was even a lengthy report on the phenomenon a while back on one of the networks. Editors complained that if you wait too long, a -significant percentage of voters will already have voted without you. If you go too early (whether a voter or a -newspaper), you may make a decision that you end up regretting because of new developments in the weeks before the election.
Candidates can change their -positions, make stupid mistakes that change minds, drop out, be exposed as -murderers, or even die. But all those voters who cast their ballots have no way of withdrawing them and changing their minds. I think there may be the potential here for a major constitutional crisis someday.
But this is now. Here at The Pilot, our plan is to finish interviewing -candidates this week and begin -running stories and endorsements next week. Stay tuned. We'll do our best.
I still don't like it.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at 693-2470 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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