Some Atlanta voters go to the polls Tuesday not knowing whether a vote for one particular candidate would even count. Tyrone Brooks Jr., one of seven people vying to fill the seat his father held for 34 years, may not meet residency requirements; he was deemed disqualified last Monday, but a judge later ordered that he remain on the ballot pending a Thursday hearing.
At least those who show up to vote Tuesday are aware the younger Brooks’ candidacy is in limbo. That wasn’t the case for those who voted in advance.
At least 350 people voted before Brooks’ qualifications were called into question; as many as 100 more cast their ballots thinking he had been disqualified. The past dozen special House elections in Georgia have drawn an average of just 2,716 voters, so 450 is a substantial number.
Early voting has come to be considered sacrosanct, with any reduction in voting days regarded as an attack on the republic itself. But as the Brooks case demonstrates, the earlier you cast your ballot, the less time you have to learn information that could sway your decision -- at least, in theory.
I add that qualifier because, in reality, early voting is favored not by those who are genuinely persuadable, but by committed partisans who probably wouldn’t change their minds no matter what revelations came to light about their preferred candidates.
(Here I should note that, while early voting in Georgia tends to be favored by Democrats, most of my criticisms also apply to absentee voting, favored by Republicans.)
That’s why I find it no coincidence our politics has grown more polarized as more and more people have cast their ballots early.
Modern campaigning is largely about identifying, motivating and turning out one’s base of supporters. A longer early voting period gives candidates and parties more time to concentrate on getting their most committed voters to the polls before Election Day. It’s not uncommon for campaigns to start targeting their party’s supporters for advanced voting almost as soon as the primary is over.
A base-turnout strategy isn’t limited to tactics. Where time, money and other resources go, you’ll usually find stump-speech rhetoric as well.
While it’s no wonder political parties and candidates like extended advanced voting, it’s not so clear the rest of us should value it so highly.
Yes, there’s a public interest in allowing people to cast ballots on more than one single day. Some people have to be out of town on Election Day. Others’ work schedules keep them away from their polling places during daytime hours. And limiting voting to one day can create long lines in some places.
But let’s be honest: Most of these situations don’t require three weeks of early voting plus an even longer period of “no reason” absentee voting.
If we were really concerned about access, we could stage 24-hour voting for the last four days of an election (that’s a weekend plus two weekdays) and allow absentee voting for those who couldn’t still couldn’t make it to the polls.
That would give people more time to learn about the candidates -- or, as in Brooks’ case, to see if the candidates remain on the ballot -- rather than getting caught up in partisan appeals.