I like the concept of early voting and I have used it myself but it has gone too far and needs to be reigned in. We would be better off limiting early voting to a few days before Election Day.
The problem with allowing people to vote for up to a month before Election Day is that it necessarily leads to voters being less informed than they otherwise would be when they cast their ballots. Let’s say candidate A and B are running close together and a major scandal breaks just before the election. Or, on the positive side, one of the candidates unveils a significant endorsement or a major public policy a week before the election – or an incumbent elected official steps up in a crisis and solves a major problem. Votes that would have been swayed are locked in because those votes were cast a month ago.
Even without an “October surprise” candidates are running TV ads, sending mailers, having debates, going door to door, and posting on their websites or social media trying to convince voters. But those who vote the first week of October (or the first week of April) cannot be informed by those things (or news coverage of the campaigns) the last month of the election – which happens to be when election coverage and campaigning is most intense. With all other things being equal, a voter who casts a ballot a month early is going to be less informed than a voter that casts a ballot on Election Day. Do we really want less informed voters deciding our elections?
We should not eliminate early voting entirely. Sometimes things happen that cannot be foreseen. I had a death in my family just before the Bloomington city elections in 1995, and I voted on Monday instead of Tuesday so I could travel back to my hometown for the funeral. People may get sick, have a family emergency, or be called into work unexpectedly. Therefore, it is unreasonable to limit voting to twelve hours on the second Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
It is not unreasonable, however, to expect voters to show up over a much shorter time frame. It would be better for early voting to be limited to Friday or Saturday through Tuesday – allowing people four or five days to vote, but not cutting off efforts to inform and convince voters and perhaps change a few votes here and there. This would result in a more informed electorate and would allow people more time to consider the candidates’ policy positions, record and personal character. Any effort to do this would have intense backlash but sometimes the right thing to do is not the most popular thing to do.