How To Get a “Single Electorate”

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising in a conservative publication where early voting is considered a major threat to the election of Mitt Romney and a Republican Congress. But the Weekly Standard is featuring an post by election lawyer Robert Kelner who argues that early voting is always a bad idea on grounds that voters should go to the polls with the same information about the candidates:

With early voting, there is no longer a single electorate. There are many electorates. There is the electorate that voted in September just after the conventions, the electorate that voted in October before the debates, and then the more informed electorate that voted on Election Day. The vote count on election eve is no longer a snapshot in time reflecting our collective judgment. It is more like a “moving average”—an aggregation of what different Americans thought at different times based on different information.

Zat right? I don’t think so. We already have vast gaps in the “information levels” of voters, and the idea that they become more “informed” by late campaign ads is highly dubious. If, say, a candidate starts lying about what he or she is going to do if elected, you could argue the “information level” has gone down. And at the higher ballot levels, of course, this campaign cycle has been endless, far longer than in any other democratic system anywhere.

But Kelner misses, and in fact doesn’t even address, why early voting and other “convenience voting” methods became popular in the first place: the traditional election day is very hard on working people. It’s even harder in places where, traditionally, incompetent election administration (sometimes quite deliberate in areas where the party in charge is not expected to do well) and harassment of voters has taken place or is being threatened. We already have “many electorates” given widely varying rules for registration, voting, vote-counting, and vote-challenging around the country, which were barely touched by the Help America Vote Act that was enacted to supposedly deal with the gross state-by-state and county-by-county inequities revealed in 2000.

If you want to get rid of early voting and have a “single electorate,” let’s make Election Day a national holiday and/or vote on weekends, and nationalize the entire voter administration system, with a strong presumption that citizens ought to be allowed to vote as a right, not a privilege.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.