Have an early vote plan from a competitive 2010 contest in Florida? It may not even be worth looking at in preparation for this fall, strategists warn. The early vote landscape has changed markedly in battlegrounds across the country with several states over the past year shortening the window to cast in-person early votes. Among them, the swing states of Florida and Wisconsin. The changes will have campaigns in those states—and nationally—going back to the drawing board when it comes to the early vote, and likely having to spend additional resources to educate voters on the changes. “You have to divert resources and you have to plan ahead,” says Phillip Stutts, a Republican strategist. Stutts served as national director of the RNC’s 72-hour task force in 2004. The key questions campaigns should be asking, according to Stutts: “Do we hold money back now to put it into getting out the vote for early voting? Or, if [the early voting window] condenses, can we use more of that money for TV, for radio? Maybe we run a couple more mail pieces, or hire more staff?”
In 2011, seven states passed laws restricting the early voting window: Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, Maine, Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio—the state that saw the most contentious and uncertain debate over the changes. The Ohio measure would have shortened the early voting window from 35 days to 17 days. Earlier in the year, critics gathered enough signatures to get a repeal effort on this fall’s ballot putting implementation of the law on hold. But Ohio’s state Senate has now passed a repeal of the measure on its own and the state House could do the same. “Unfortunately, you can’t brand your early vote program when there’s a high level of uncertainty and when the rules keep changing,” says Stutts.
State election officials are now also more reliant than ever on the parties and individual campaigns to educate voters about the changes, he notes. With campaigns reliably dedicating sizable amounts of time and resources for early vote outreach and voter education, states and localities are spending little on the process. It places added pressure on already resource-strapped campaigns to ensure their voters are aware of the rules and motivated at the right time.
Full Article: Rethinking the early vote | Campaigns & Elections.