Some conservative commentators – including co-blogger Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis, and former Justice Department voting rights specialist J. Christian Adams, have recently criticized early voting, on the grounds that it exacerbates the problem of political ignorance. I agree that widespread political ignorance is a serious problem. But I doubt that early voting makes it any worse than it would be otherwise. As leading voting rights scholar Rick Hasen points out, social science research shows that early voters are, on average, better-informed than those who vote on election day. They also tend to have stronger partisan loyalties, and are therefore unlikely to change their minds based on last-minute election ads or news developments.
There is always the possibility that some dramatic last-minute revelation will occur that would change the minds of even relatively well-informed and strongly partisan voters. But that possibility exists no matter when people vote. If everyone casts their ballots on November 5, there is always a chance that a major scandal will be revealed on November 6 that would have changed the outcome of the election. As a practical matter, allowing people to vote a few weeks before the official election day doesn’t greatly increase this kind of risk. By the time we get to last few weeks of an election, the media and opposition researchers have already thoroughly gone over the records of candidates for major offices, searching for scandals and misdeeds.
Moreover, many last-minute revelations are distractions rather than genuinely useful information. For example, Adams cites the case of the last-minute revelation of George W. Bush’s decades-old drunk driving conviction in 2000. I am no fan of Bush’s. But I think that revelation wasn’t meaningfully relevant to the decision before the electorate in 2000. Although Bush did indeed have a drinking problem when he was young, no one familiar with the evidence doubted that Bush was sober in 2000, and had been for many years. The same goes for campaign revelations that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had probably used marijuana during their college days.
Full Article: Political ignorance and early voting.