Yesterday was the last day of early voting here in Memphis. While yesterday’s numbers haven’t been released, the total number of votes recorded as of yesterday morning was 226,929, 60% of the total votes recorded in the Presidential election here in Shelby County in 2004. Looking at the trend lines of participation, we could see 67% to 70% of all the Shelby County votes cast in the 2004 election, cast before Election Day. That’s pretty impressive.
31 states have some form of “No Cause” early voting, be it absentee, mail in ballots, or the Tennessee style early voting. I early voted for the first time in Little Rock back in 2000, and have been early voting since.
Elections in the US have been held during the workweek since the beginning of the nation. While other countries vote on Saturdays or Sundays, we chose Tuesday. This may have been more manageable back in the early days of our nation, when there were fewer people who could vote, but now some 232 years later, it’s a logistical nightmare.
Few States and Counties can support the cost of distributing and maintaining the number of voting machines required to keep the lines flowing smoothly for the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of potential voters in one day. This is one of the key reasons early voting was adopted in Ohio. 2004’s legal challenges and voting machine shenanigans (several areas, populated largely by African-Americans got far fewer machines than more sparsely populated areas with a different demography) showed a weakness in their system and was an embarrassment to the state. Giving people two weeks to vote gives them an opportunity to make sure they have time to do so without the last second “whoops I forgot my ID” (something I just can’t imagine. I carry my ID everywhere, who doesn’t carry a DL or something with them everywhere they go?), or arriving at the wrong polling station, etc. Further EV takes pressure off local election commissions, by spreading the turnout over two weeks rather than concentrating it in one day.
Most importantly, early voting equalizes the playing field for thousands of workers who, for whatever reason, may not have been able to make it to, or wait in long lines at the polls next Tuesday.
I know there are plenty of people, including a large number of Republicans, who feel that early voting tips the playing field against them. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that any party or ideology that works to exclude anyone from the process, overtly or covertly, is working counter to the ideals, many of which are still not fully realized, that make this nation great.
For my part, I’m glad we have early voting here, and hope that it increases participation, even if that new participation comes from people who are my ideological opposite. The more people get involved, the better our nation can be.