Monday, September 24, 2012

Your Lips Are Moving, But You Don’t Say A Word To Me

Beginning last Saturday, early voting is available to half the U.S. citizens. I think early voting is a good idea. Whether voting a month and a half before the election is necessary, in most cases, I’m not as certain. But in our part of the country early voting only occurs two weeks before the election. That is a bit scrimpy I’d say. There must be a “sweet spot” between a month and a half and two weeks.

But the real issue is whether early voting is a good thing or not. The reasons for early voting originally were: 1) to allow people living some distance from their voting jurisdiction (military personnel and people away on business or extended vacations) to get their vote to the jurisdiction in time to be counted on election day, and 2) to allow those who knew they would be out of the jurisdiction on voting day to cast a ballot before leaving. Those two simple and understandable reasons have been augmented to include those who have a disability and, in some jurisdictions, anyone who wants to vote early for any reason.

As a retired old geezer, I tend to do anything I can “early” in case I don’t feel like doing it at the prescribed time. Seems like a good reason to me. The two weeks allowed for early voting in this jurisdiction has proven adequate for my purposes but if it were expanded to 45 days in advance of the election I’d probably be heading out to vote on this bright sunny early Autumn morning.

Of course the political parties have a stake in all of this. (What is it that the political parties DON’T have a stake in?) A party whose candidate seems to be quite popular in the weeks ahead of the election usually likes early voting. However, in a year in which a particular party’s candidate is struggling to gain the support of the electorate, they are less thrilled with it. This year, with President Obama running slightly ahead in the national polls, and considerably ahead in some of the “swing state” polls, Democrats are quite eager to have the voters cast an early ballot. It is insurance against their changing their minds later in the campaign, as they watch the debates, or as they are inundated with millions of dollars worth of negative TV and Internet advertising. Republicans would like to hold off the voting in hopes that Mr. Romney’s standing in the polls will increase closer to the election.

Of course the mere fact that voting is allowed early, and that nearly half of the country can now vote, is no guarantee that half the country will vote early. In 2008 as many as 30% of the voters in some states voted early. That leaves millions of voters to cast their ballots on Election Day. But those who are committed to one candidate or the other, and those who have made up their minds early will be more likely to vote. It might be useful to look at the results that would have occurred if only early votes were used to determine the winner of an election. How much would it change the outcome, if at all?

One potential advantage of early voting that appeals to me is that it negates the effect of the negative advertising late in the campaign, at least for those who have already voted. Those folk must still endure the irritation of seeing the ads, but have no need to attend to their message. It might be that those producing such ads would conclude that they are wasting their money chasing an audience that has already turned them off.

Perhaps that is too much to hope for. The purveyors of slander might just shift their ads to an earlier time in the campaign. But that would require them to spend even more if the window of opportunity was kept open longer by early voting. And again, it might be that they would conclude that it is too expensive to pursue that route to victory. Anything that discourages the scandal of political advertising is a good thing.

It may well be that early voting changes the results of an election, but the opportunity to achieve an advantage through early voting is open equally to both parties. They just need to make their case early rather than spin their wheels on petty issues, waiting, hoping they will not be required to stand for anything, and  doing so only when forced to in the last days of a campaign.

I say, bring on the early voting. It may be snowing on November 6th in Wisconsin. There will be many sunny days between now and then when geezers like me, and other people with busy, complicated lives, can find a few moments to slip into the City Clerk’s office and cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice.

And having done so, they can then say to the angry, sinister, lying ads that interrupt their TV viewing pleasure, “Your lips are moving, but you don’t say a word to me.”



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