- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Alejandra Baez will be visiting Spain for three weeks, Chadon Smith gets anxious in big crowds and Michael Hardiman doesn’t know what his busy schedule will bring Nov. 6.

These D.C. residents took advantage of pre-Election Day voting at Judiciary Square on Wednesday but cited different reasons for hopping on the national trend that provides flexibility to the electorate, while thinning out lines that will gather at the polls in less than two weeks to elect the next president, members of Congress and local officials. In the District, early voting will be available through Nov. 3.

“Early voting is good for people who have already made their minds up and are not going to be swayed by candidates dancing around at the last minute,” said Mr. Hardiman, a voter from Ward 6 who has taken advantage of the option in previous elections.

D.C. Board of Elections reported that 3,119 voters had cast early ballots as of Wednesday night, or roughly 1,000 per day since the option became available on Monday. The District and 32 states allow voters to cast a ballot in person, for any reason, during a designated period before Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The option has grown in popularity among the states over the past decade — it gives voters options and diffuses pressure on poll workers — yet there is disagreement about how long of an early-voting period is appropriate.Across the nation, early-voting windows range from four to 45 days, with an average of 22 days, and the average starting time for early voting is 22 days before the election, according to conference’s data.

“You wouldn’t want to start early voting for 2016 on Nov. 7,” quipped David Lublin, a professor of government at American University.

Political and financial considerations are at play, too. Jurisdictions may have to shell out funds to staff early-voting sites, and candidates must allocate resources to target early voters and those who show up on Election Day. Equivocating voters also run the risk of casting their ballots, only to discover a damning fact about their pick in the following days.

“That is one of the cons,” said Wendy Underhill, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “The pro is that this is a convenience the voters have embraced.”

It is also important to distinguish early in-person voting from absentee ballots — which are requested and then returned by mail or dropped off in person — and all-mail elections used in Oregon and Washington state.

In the District and Maryland, voters who cast absentee ballots do not have to provide an excuse. Maryland also offers early in-person voting. Virginia, only offers absentee voting with a valid excuse, according to the conference.

Starting Saturday, registered D.C. voters can cast an early ballot at one of eight sites — one per ward — across the city, providing seven more localized options besides the Judiciary Square site in Ward 2 that opened Monday. Early voting sites are open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., but will be closed Sunday. Residents who cast their ballots on Election Day must report to their local precincts, but early voters can go to any of the eight sites.

Clifford Tatum, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections, said the city is advertising the option to a much greater extent than it did during its first foray into early voting in 2010.

“2010 was our first shot at it, and we’ve seen it work,” he said Wednesday.

Voters who cast ballots at Judiciary Square had mixed opinions about the candidates on the ballot, but shared enthusiasm for short lines and friendly poll workers.

Emily Herzberg, a Ward 2 resident, said she used early voting in 2008 — when she lived in Illinois — and took advantage of the District’s program this year because she will be away on business Nov. 6.

And Ms. Smith, a hairstylist from Ward 8, said a client let her know about the convenient option. She had to update the address in her voter registration records, so she took care of that and voted in one fell swoop without the hassle of Election Day.

“Your mind is a little clearer,” she said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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