The Old Line
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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Get Up Early in the Morning and Begin My Mission

Early voting, to no one's surprise, has passed both the state Senate and the House, although it'll be at least 2010 before it will go into effect. Will this actually improve voter turnout? It's hard to say. The Carter-Baker Commission mentioned in the Sun article said early voting doesn't do anything, but the picture presented by Reed College's Early Voting Information Center is a little more complex. It turns out that early voting does increase turnout somewhat, but only when combined with absentee ballots on demand, and then only in a midterm election. The conclusion to its most recent paper, "Early Voting and Turnout," (PDF) is worth quoting here (emphasis added):
In conclusion, we find that early voting reforms have, at best, a modest effect on turnout. We believe, after additional testing, that this will prove to be a robust finding, since it is consistent with prior research as well as with political science theory. We are skeptical of those who continue to advocate in favor of early voting reform primarily on the basis of increased turnout. Our data simply don’t support these claims. There are good reasons to adopt early voting—ballot counting is more accurate, it can save administrative costs and headaches, and voters express a high level of satisfaction with the system. If a jurisdiction adopts early voting in the hopes of boosting turnout, however, it is likely to be disappointed.
So early voting isn't a cure-all, but it does some good. Ultimately, it is enthusiasm for the candidate or cause -- or loathing -- that makes people go out to the polls. This is one reason why Barack Obama's candidacy is so heartening: something about him makes lots of people want to campaign for him, and (one hopes) vote for him. Of course, not every politician can be an Obama...


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