It is easy to dismiss the latest conservative rants against early voting as just one more way for Republicans to try to gain advantage over Democrats at the polls. But something much more troubling may also be at work: Some opponents of early voting are promoting the view that a smaller (and skewed) electorate is better for democracy. In the past few weeks, a flurry of conservatives have attacked early voting, from Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis in Politico to George Will in the Washington Post to J. Christian Adams in the Washington Times. The timing is no coincidence: The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which President Obama created to look at issues with long lines and other election problems, recently issued its much-anticipated report. The report is full of many sound suggestions for improving our elections, and one of the key recommendations is to expand early voting, either in person, through absentee ballots, or both. There’s good reason to follow the commission’s recommendation: Early voting takes pressure off administering the vote on Election Day. It helps avert long lines and aids election administrators in working out kinks. Voters like early voting because it lets them pick a convenient time to vote, when there are not work or child-care conflicts.
“Voting should be harder, not easier—for everybody. … If you are having an intelligent conversation with somebody, is it enriched if a mob of uninformed louts, never mind ex-cons and rapists, barges in?”
And yet, the commission’s stance on early voting could have been derailed by politics. The commission was co-headed by Barack Obama’s election lawyer, Bob Bauer, and Mitt Romney’s election lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, and some observers thought that Ginsberg might take heat for endorsing early voting because in recent years it has benefited Democrats. That’s why the Republican legislatures in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio have cut back on early voting. To their credit, Ginsberg and other Republican commissioners saw the sound basis for expanding early voting and ignored the partisanship surrounding the issue.
The conservative critique against early voting, meanwhile, goes deeper than the partisan concern about boosting Democratic turnout. George Will bemoans early voting as “diffuse and inferior.” Adams says, “Early voting means stubborn voters will make uninformed decisions prematurely. Voting even one week early produces less-informed voters and dumbs down the electorate.” Kontorovich and McGinnis complain: “People will be able to vote when the mood strikes them—after seeing an inflammatory ad, for example. Voting then becomes an incoherent summing of how various individuals feel at a series of moments, not how the nation feels at a particular moment.”