Being informed before casting a ballot is a civic duty. Although voters may scorn the kind of gutter politics that encourages an "October surprise" in a presidential election, crucial, late-breaking events often bring legitimate issues to the fore. Early voting adds convenience, but by sacrificing thorough decision-making it may end up disserving the democratic process.
The current contest between President Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney makes the case. Americans who took advantage of early voting prior to last week hadn't heard that the White House knew nearly in real time that the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was under attack on Sept. 11. These voters were unaware that U.S. forces were standing by to assist and that four besieged Americans likely died because no one in the administration would give the order to rescue them. This blunder probably wouldn't convince many of Mr. Obama's diehard backers to reconsider, but for other early voters, a change of heart would have come too late: Their votes were cast.
About 30 percent of the electorate voted early in 2008, according to George Mason University's United States Election Project. Whether due to military service, travel or simply the desire to avoid long lines on Election Day, the proportion could reach 40 percent this year. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow some form of early voting.
A new Cal Tech-MIT study criticizes the use of no-excuse absentee balloting and the all-mail elections in effect in Washington state and Oregon. Aside from the issue of early votes rendering moot late-breaking events, the study warns mail ballots degrade the accuracy and speed of election results. In 2008, 35.5 million absentee ballots were requested but only 27.9 million were counted, according to the survey. Among them, 3.9 million were requested by voters but never received, 2.9 million were sent out but never returned, and 800,000 were returned but rejected by election officials due to mistakes. "This suggests that 7.6 million absentee ballots -- 21 percent of all requests -- leaked out of the system before counting even began," said the report. Such a large percentage of uncounted ballots leads to a jolting conclusion: An early vote could be a wasted vote.
The tedious process of handling absentee ballots can also slow down the count. The battleground state of Ohio has sent out 1.4 million absentee ballots but only 619,000 have been returned so far, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Citizens not returning their mail-in ballots are allowed to vote on Election Day using provisional ballots, which, by state law, are not counted until Nov. 17. If the race between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney hinges on the outcome in Ohio, the nation may be left on tenterhooks for weeks before a winner is declared.
Balloting that obviates the impact of late news or trades accuracy and speed for convenience detracts from the fundamental right to representative government. When it comes to the democratic process, Americans shouldn't mail it in.
The Washington Times
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