Sunday, October 24, 2010

Early Voting – does it change the campaign culture?

Now that we have early voting offered in some form in 32 states (including Maryland) and the District of Columbia, some wonder if it has changed the culture of campaigning. 

In the early days of our country, the Founders, true to the mores of their time, decreed that only men could vote; in many places only landowners were allowed to cast a ballot.  Later, voters were induced by promises of drinks given to those who showed proof of having voted.  In cities and along the lawless frontiers, Election Days were frequently marred by much public drunkenness and brawling.  Urban bosses were later said to encourage multiple votes by casting ballots for those whose names were found on local headstones.  It took many years and many public protests for women to finally gain the right to vote early in the 20th Century; the right to vote for African Americans took much longer and was coupled with the Civil Rights movement.  Poll taxes, stringent voter exams and outright intimidation were commonplace across many areas of this country during that era.  During the marches in the 1960s lives were lost and forever changed by this struggle which was eventually won.  To some, this seems far away, an excess of another era, but for many who remember, this struggle has defined their lives and they would not miss an election.  Some – even in this day and age – try to discourage voters from showing up at the polls by misinformation or intimidation; a recent ad was aired to try to tell Hispanic voters to not vote since immigration reform has not yet happened.  But if you ask many people what attribute is the hallmark of our democracy, often the right to freely and privately vote is mentioned.

So why then do we usually have only slightly more than half of the registered voters actually casting a vote in National elections?  In 2008, approximately 231 million people were of voting age and eligible from our population of over 300 million.  122 million people actually voted.  Consequently, about one-third of our population decided who will govern this country.  In off election years, such as this one, where more campaigns are local, voter numbers decrease even further.  So how does a candidate reach out and convince someone to vote?  Some have complained that voting is too difficult; lifestyles are not conducive to voting at a fixed time and place.  Early voting has changed some of that and has decreased some excuses; absentee no-fault voting is trying to encourage more participation in the process.

Traditionally voters are reached in an ever narrowing circle of contact outreach efforts.  There are the coffees, the kickoffs, the debates and public events and other forums.  Mail is employed as are phone banks and robocalls (automated calling).  Personal door-to-door contacts are stressed for the very committed voters, the ones you really want to get out there and vote – because the candidate knows they share similar views or ideals.  Then, as Election Day draws closer, one looks to GOTV (Get out the Vote!)  Voting day would arrive and lines were seen at the polling places.

Anyway, this has been the time-honored tradition for most of the last half of the 20th century.  Before our country became as mobile and as transient as it is now, there were assigned contacts in many urban areas whose primary jobs was to get the voters to the polls.  The person who voted early in the day was prized, because that would make the rest of the day easier for the campaigners; once off the list, this was one less voter that needed to be steered to the polls.  Once the voter arrived at the polls, he or she might have to run the gauntlet of partisans offering paper sample ballots or campaign literature in hopes of creating a last minute change in voter choices.  This has been the way Montgomery County has managed the election process for many years.

Now much of that has changed.  One may vote early, on the weekend or during the week, somewhat in advance of Election Day. There is wider access absentee voting.   (Montgomery County polling places are listed below.)  What effect does this have on the GOTV efforts as described above?  Will this increase the turnout of voters?  How will the last minute frenzy be altered?  Are we, as a country, moving toward a voting month such as states like Oregon have?  Oregon has no polling places, just mail in voting.   Voter out reach is not limited to Election Day.  Since there are paper ballots, there is no dispute about electronic machines losing or changing votes.  Does it increase turnout or make voting too detached, too sterile?  Would such a system work in an eastern state such as Maryland?  What is your suggestion to better engage the voter?

You do not have to vote in a home precinct during early voting - but you do on Election Day.  Turnout was very low during the Primary - let's get out there this time and make our voices heard!

Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center, 14625 Bauer Drive, Rockville 20853
Germantown Recreation Center, 18905 Kingsview Road, Germantown 20874
Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center, 14906 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville 20866
Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville 20850
Silver Spring Civic Building, 8525 Fenton Street, Silver Spring 20910

You can cast your vote at any early voting location in the county between Friday, October 22, 2010 and Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 10:00am until 8:00pm (except Sunday, October 24, 2010).

1 comment:

  1. I have continued to be highly annoyed by robocalls which drive me to the point of insanity so much that I just don't answer the phone two weeks before a scheduled election. Then those blasted things leave messages, which take time to delete-delete-delete.

    But back to your post -- has early voting changed campaigning? I know it's harder for candidates to "cover" five early voting sites for multiple days. It really was a pleasure, in a way, that the "gauntlet" was much smaller when I voted early. Instead of hastily running into the polling place past the electioneers saying, "I know who I'm voting for", I was able to be less in a hurry, and less stressed.

    I know at least five of my senior pals decided to vote both in the primary and in the general BECAUSE of early voting. Their polling place usually has large crowds and long lines, and their health is such that they can't stand in line for a long time. They voted since there weren't lines for early voting, though they required transportation which I happily provided. So in their case, I think early voting actually brought some more voters to the polls who may have otherwise skipped it.

    I also know three young people who decided to vote because of early voting. They each told me that they didn't have time to vote on the actual election day because of their college class demand and distance. They didn't want to drive "all the way back home just to vote" (their words.) But they did vote on Saturday, since they were home for the weekend anyway.

    So I think early voting helps get out the vote by making it more convenient. It certainly has for me and some people I know.


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