Election Day is approaching, and you’ve made up your mind. There’s no need to wait. In many states, you now can vote early. Yet what’s convenient to you is increasingly an opportunity for political gamesmanship to the candidates on the ballot. In key swing states, Democrats and Republicans are battling this year to gain even the slightest electoral advantages by tinkering with the times, dates and places where people can vote early. Their sights are set not only on this year’s gubernatorial and congressional campaigns, but on an even bigger prize: control of the White House after the 2016 elections. Republican-controlled legislatures in Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin all have taken recent steps to curtail early voting by limiting the days on which it’s available. Meanwhile, Democratic-led legislatures have passed measures expanding early voting or instant registration in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and Minnesota. And Democratic activists in Missouri are backing an initiative petition that could create one of the nation’s most expansive early voting systems.
The efforts all are born from a shared political assumption. “For whatever reason, both sides seem to believe that increased early voting will help Democrats and hurt Republicans,” said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who studies voting.
New research suggests that those partisan assumptions about early voting may not be true. Yet the perception is deeply grounded because of President Barack Obama’s pioneering use of early voting to drive a greater number of Democrats to the polls in his victories in 2008 and 2012.