Early Voting and Status Quo

This article in Huffington Post points to something I hadn’t thought about, before.  No, I don’t mean the confident claim that the author makes that Sanders is currently winning the primary race, but the more general effect of early voting combined with election day voter suppression, as took place in Arizona, in effect.  Early voting has been often touted as a means of making voting more convenient, something that can increase the turnout. However, what apparently happened in Arizona suggests that in certain combinations, early voting can substantially change the election outcome.

The current research suggests that early voting does not significantly change the usual turnout decision by voters:  most early voters are fairly conventional voters, who are relatively high turnout even without the early voting provision.  If so, they typically would have made up their mind long ago without much possibility of having their mind changed in the run-up to the election.  In other words, they are likely to be your typical high propensity voter:  higher income, higher education, more stable political preferences. At minimum, low propensity voters do NOT take advantage of early voting much.

The implication from this for a general election is murky:  low propensity voters generally do not turn out on the election day either–thus, the label “low propensity” voters.  It takes an unusual set of circumstances for their turnout to spike unexpectedly, and if the Huffington Post article’s author’s contention is to be accepted, the quick pace of the primary campaign might have provided such circumstances in Arizona last week.  There are interesting implications here:  if the last minute voters are the most marginal voters, they are most likely to be influenced by campaigning.  Yet, as more voters vote early, accommodations for same day voting makes less sense in cost-effective sense.  While the drastic reduction in polling places as per Arizona are improbable in most places, it is difficult to believe that with relatively few voters left who, furthermore, may or may not show up, same day voting provisions would be kept as convenient.  So the voting weight shifts, ironically, against the voters who are least likely to vote, to convenience those who already vote.  Much the same thing might be said for internet voting and other technological scams masquerading as means to ease voting:  they make it easier to vote if you can afford them.  They make the well-off feel better about themselves, while actually making it potentially harder for the really marginalized to be counted.

Perhaps we might want to make it easier for people to show up in person and vote on the election day…not come up with convenient excuses for people who can afford avoiding it, and mistakenly think that makes it easier for everyone to vote.

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