In Defense of Early Voting

In Defense of Early Voting

Common Cause Massachusetts response to Boston Globe column by Jeff Jacoby on drawbacks early voting

Response to Jeff Jacoby's Column in the Globe

This piece was written in response to Jeff Jacoby’s March 20th column in the Boston Globe, titled “Convenience of early voting isn’t worth the trade-offs.”

Contrary to Jeff Jacoby’s assertions, there are no signficant downsides to early voting laws.

Early voting gives voters more choices for casting ballots, and, as Jacoby notes, 36 states and DC allow for voters to cast ballots before Election Day. Many studies have shown either a small positive benefit or a neutral effect on voter turnout because of early voting. Only one study, which is cited by Jacoby, came to the opposite conclusion and found a very small decrease in participation. However, even the author admitted to a flawed study design because it lumped together mail-in absentee voting and in-person early voting.

In any case, I find the turnout criteria interesting because Jacoby has elsewhere criticized the one reform that all studies, including the one cited by Jacoby, have found will boost voter turnout: same day voter registration. Perhaps Jacoby has seen the light on that reform?

Other bases for critiquing early voting also don’t hold water. Yes, some states have long early voting windows, although Massachusetts allows for only 11 days. But only the most committed partisans vote at the beginning of the window. A gaffe by their preferred candidate therefore does not change their preferences. Undecided voters wait until Election Day to cast their votes, until all information plays out.

And of course Israel doesn’t have early voting.  That would be ridiculous since elections in Israel are called at the whim of the Prime Minister and must occur within 3 to 5 months after he or she dissolves parliament.  Elections in the US are held on a set schedule and campaigns for head-of-state take years rather than months.

Many of us would prefer a shorter election season, but early voting is not the culprit—our basic form of government and dispersed, expensive, privately-financed elections are.