Sunday, January 27, 2008


It's not often, but every once in a while we actually take a step in the right direction. Take this early voting thing. Convenient, yes - but beyond that, clearly the right way to promote participation in a democratic society.

I voted yesterday. My state doesn't have its scheduled Primary until February 5th (Super Tuesday), but thanks to early voting, I was able to punch for Obama well in advance...while I was out running errands on a Saturday!

So why is early voting the right way to go?

Think about turnout for these elections and how it's been on the decline. People are disenfranchised - or at least that's the word the politicians like to throw around. While that may, in part, be responsible for low voter turnout, there are actually a number of other things to blame. Inclement weather, for example, has the potential to stifle participation. If there's a snowstorm in Buffalo, that's likely to suppress voter turnout. If there's a squall in the southeast, more folks may opt to forego voting in favor of a warm, dry day indoors. But because voting is limited to a few hours on a single day, there isn't always an opportunity to wait for things to clear up. You either need to brave the elements or your lose your voice. These are not earth-shattering revelations - they're understood truths about our process, and clearly identified room for improvement. Why have we - until now - limited voting to a single day? And why Tuesday? And why in winter, early spring, and late fall when the weather is traditionally at its worst? Sure doesn't seem to ENCOURAGE participation, does it?

Consider the difficulty a Tuesday election day imposes upon the working class. Back when the system was first set up, it made more sense - people were more spread out and often had to travel long distances to city centers, by horse and buggy, to vote. Farmers needed time before and after church to ensure they could get to town to cast their ballot. But we've come a long way since then, and Tuesday elections no longer make any sense. Yet we continue voting on Tuesdays because that's the way it's always been done. And that's the trouble with bureaucracy - new ideas threaten to upset the system, so it is to the system's advantage to maintain the status quo. Even if the system is clearly broken and it doesn't make sense to do so!

Beyond the influence weather and a single voting day can have on turnout, consider our limited polling place options. It's typically mandated that we vote at our designated polling places because that's been the best and easiest way for election officials to keep track of things. Imagine the mayhem associated with keeping track of election results if people could vote wherever they damn well please! And yet technology now affords us ways to keep track of who voted for who, where, and at what time. So it's no longer necessary to force people to get up at 5am, or leave work early, so they don't risk missing an opportunity to cast their vote. They can vote on their lunch hour, or on the way to the office, or on the way home.

The best way to encourage participation in the process is to make it convenient. Early voting does that. I voted where I wanted and when I wanted - well in advance of the established Primary date. There was a list of 51 easy to get to polling places all over Chicago. One was at a local library Geri and I were passing on our way to the dry cleaner. So we pulled in and voted. Took ten minutes. Now we're able to tune out all of these ridiculous campaign ads. Our votes have been cast. We're done. We've been counted. Our selections have been made.

If you have early voting where you live, I highly recommend looking into it. The locations are convenient. The hours are convenient. They're finally removing the barriers to voting that have suppressed turnout for too long, and I applaud those responsible for bringing about this positive change.

Now let's just hope they get the count right!

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