Early voting, democratic theory, and abominations

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abomination [əˌbɒmɪˈneɪʃən]


1. a person or thing that is disgusting
2. an action that is vicious, vile, etc.
3. intense loathing
Francis Wilkinson doesn’t like early voting.  Clearly.  But an “abomination”?  That brings to mind a genetically mutated Godzilla monster destroying our democratic system.
Is that really what early voting does?
Wilkinson writes:
early voting decisively aids campaigns with the most money. In the Florida primary, for example, Mitt Romney — the big-bucks candidate — was able to flood the airwaves with ads during the extended early voting period while still having plenty of money left for the final weeks.

The problem?  Most voters don’t cast a ballot during the “extended” early voting period (he must mean the weeks before the “final weeks”, although he contradicts himself there).  I’ll write again what I wrote a few days ago: the overwhelming majority of early votes are cast during the last two weeks, and the majority, in most states I have examined, in the last week.

Those early ballots, on average, constituted around one-third of votes in the 2008 general.  And finally, we know from long experience that early voters are decided voters.

Put this all together, and there is very little evidence that early voting benefits well-funded candidates in primaries.

Point two:

What good is an “October surprise” to a citizen who voted in September?

The wikipedia reference for “October surprise” refers to manipulations of American foreign policy in order to score electoral points.   LBJ announced a halt to bombing in N. Vietnam on October 30, 1968,  falsely tring to convince voters that the war may be ending.  Secretary of State Henry Kissinger falsely claimed “peace is at hand” on October 26, 1972.  Speculation after the 1980 election is that candidate Ronald Reagan impeded a potential hostage release in order to secure electoral victory.

What’s the abomination?  Politicians crassly manipulating our foreign policy in order to gain electoral advantage?  Or an early voting system that undermines their ability to do so?

To be fair, Wilkinson finally gets to a normative complaint with early voting–that it institutionalizes inequality of information about voters.  This point has been made most effectively by Dennis Thompson, and it’s one I agree with.  It’s why I generally advise policy makers to limit the early voting period to 15 days–an in-person and mailing period that works in many states.  There is simply no reason to have a two month long period of early voting.

But that’s not a Godzilla level abomination.  It’s not even Mothra.