Election Day was once the anticipated day when voters arrived at the polls eager to pull a lever for their favorite candidates. Now Election Day has become Election Season. Much like the “Christmas creep” that turns on the holiday carols in stores and shops a few days after Labor Day, election creep is running amok.
Ohio voters were to begin casting votes for congressmen, governor, attorney general and a host of local offices and initiatives on Tuesday until the Supreme Court stepped in. In Iowa, whose Senate race is one of several that could tip the partisan balance of power in the Senate, early voting began last week. Only 17 states will treat Nov. 4 and only Nov. 4 as Election Day, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Early voting, like voting by mail and same-day registration, invites mischief. To hold down costs and to reduce fraud, Ohio officials sought to move the opening day of the voting season from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. However, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said “no” to this eminently reasonable move. Standing equal protection of the law on its head, the judges agreed with a lower court that declared a modest trimming of early voting a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.
How so? U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus, who has a promising career in fiction-writing when he hangs up his robe, said the Constitution and federal law prohibit voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in an ethnic minority group — even though the change Ohio sought would have affected all voters equally. It’s hard to see how race could enter the picture until the court put it there, since there was no early voting in Ohio for anyone until after the 2004 elections. The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Ohio.
Voters of battlegrounds states are the big losers of early voting. To be effective, candidates will begin their barrage of negative advertisements, door-to-door visits and fliers left on doorknobs earlier and earlier in the year. Family dinners will be interrupted earlier by pollsters.
The traditional “October Surprise” will become a “September Surprise” since, once committed, a ballot cast may not be recalled, no matter what a candidate does or says before Election Day. In the 2000 presidential election, news broke five days before Election Day that George W. Bush had been arrested for DUI in Maine in 1976. Richard Mourdock lost a Senate race in Indiana after fumbling for words to explain his inexplicable absurdity on rape and abortion just two weeks before Election Day.
How many votes would be switched by a late-breaking scandal or a candidate putting his foot in his mouth isn’t something a mortal would know, of course, but in a close race it could be enough to change the outcome. That’s no small consideration, particularly this year. It’s also a reason not to vote early.