Impact of Widespread Early Voting

Here’s a question / topic about which I don’t have much info.

Over the last 20 years a great many states have gone a long ways towards making Election Day in November merely the last day of a multi-week or multi-month(!) Voting Season. Folks can vote by mail or in shopping malls or libraries anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months before the official final Election Day.

So my questions / thoughts / uninformed musings:

  1. Used to be each campaign tried to engineer a big crescendo of ads and activity and hoopla just before Election Day. How effective is that nowadays when half your swing voters voted for the other guy some time last week?

  2. The value of the proverbial October Surprise goes way down when much of the vote was already in the can back in September.

  3. Various suppress-the-vote efforts tend to be concentrated on Election Day. It’s easier to lose records, have insufficient polling places, functioning machines, or workers, etc., when you’re trying to process 200+ million votes on one day. Spreading the workload over a longer time and more locations reduces that room for shenanigans.

  4. Various ballot tampering efforts potentially get easier. How plausible is it for the absentee ballots from a week in September to go missing after some surreptitious sampling determines they’re mostly voting the “wrong” way?

  5. Security leaks become easier too. Perhaps the electronic votes are being counted early too, not just stored to be counted after the polls close. And perhaps somebody has access to those interim counts that ought not.

  6. Do we have any good data on how much early voting actually happened in 2012 or 2008? Do we have any data on whether the early vote was statistically different from the Election Day vote? More R or D, more hard-core politico vs. casual voter? Older / younger, richer / poorer, etc?

  7. Do we have any evidence the campaigns are taking this factor into account? I can see a lot of ways for social media to be used as a buggy whip to get lazy voters out early. e.g. I’ve got my “I voted Trump already” badge on my facebook / twitter feed. Do you?

  8. For sure early voting is far more convenient than doing it on Election Day, if for no other reason than decreased crowding. OTOH, lazy procrastinators have a way of being lazy & procrastinating. Giving those folks a week or a month to accomplish a 20 minute task is a great way for them not to get it done at all. So is the net effect to increase or decrease total turnout? Is the effect asymmetric? And if so, how?
    I don’t mean to turn this into answering my 8 points above. Those are just seeds, and maybe not even good ones. All please spout forth with all thy wisdom and opinions.

Research shows that making early voting available doesn’t increase the number of people who vote. It may actually cause a decrease.

Very interesting 2010 article about scholarly research into the 2008 election. Thank you.

According to that article …

Early voters skew to the educated white suburban demographic. Early voters were 1/3 of the national total and over 1/2 the votes in some states.

The big insight seems to be that the two-step process of pre-registration followed by voting depresses turnout, whereas being able to show up, produce ID, register, & vote all in one step increases turn-out. And this is true whether there’s early voting or not.

And yes, campaigns have taken these changes into account, even back in 2008.

The popular understanding on voting is that the middle third of the electorate is a body of independents who, rather than blindly and stupidly follow the party line, study the issues and the candidates and go for the best person available at the time.

That sounds too good to be true and is. In reality the middle are people who barely pay attention to the process at all, know almost nothing about issues, and can’t identify candidates when shown their pictures. Research indicates that they make up their minds at the last minute - the last day or possibly even in the voting booth.

For them, the deadline forced by one day of voting may be an incentive. They do care, more than the even larger number who seem to have permanently opted out of voting, but the price of voting is comparatively high. They are less educated, which makes it more difficult and time-consuming to bone up on the issues; they have busy lives, maybe with multiple jobs; and they often face long lines and other hassles to get the voting physically done, which means they are more likely to turn out for the all-important Presidential election only. The barrage of last-minute ads enables them to spend the minimum time to pay attention.

My feeling is that this will gradually change over time as social media replaces conventional news sources as information providers, and concurrently seniors, of whom 70% compared with 40% of 20-year-olds, die off. Early voting itself will be less of a factor than many other things.

Overall I agree with your thoughts.

Ref the snip above … Do we know whether the current crop of seniors always voted at 70%, or did they grow into that as they get older? IOW, can we expect the senior turnout to decline to 40% in 50 years when the current 20 yos are 70? Or should we expect the current 20 yos to slowly get more politically involved as they age?

Obviously individuals will do individual things. The question is the overall statistical effect of all those individual (in)actions?

Young voters have always had low percentages. Voting is apparently in large part experience and connection, and, after a beginning, habit. Owning a home and paying taxes drive people to pay attention.

Judging from how Republican controlled districts/States have tried or succeeded in limiting early voting, I think it’s a fair assumption that early voters tend to skew voting for Democratic candidates.

That was certainly my going-in assumption. The linked article from post#2 says otherwise.

It is certainly conventional wisdom that the Rs are the ones who believe in voter suppression and who act on that belief in ways legal and not.

If Trump succeeds in rallying a demographic that normally doesn’t vote we may see a sea-change in the two parties’ ideas about making voting easy or hard. Trump doesn’t need to win for this to happen; he just needs to wake a big enough lump of votes to get the party leaderships’ attention for next time.

The interesting thing here to me is the thought that this outcome would move vote-suppression efforts down from the statehouse to the local county level. Most states are purple. Mot counties are much more either true-blue or red-'r-dead. And policing county shenanigans is much more difficult. Which means more of it will A) happen and B) be gotten away with.

Here in Texas, we’ve had easy access to early voting for years. It’s been a long time since I voted on Election Day in November, because it’s so easy to vote at supermarkets and various other public places for weeks before that.

That makes MY life easier, so it’s fine by me. But as a practical matter, it has been a complete failure at increasing voter turnout.