By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
Before the Gov. Scott Walker recall this summer, I received at least three pieces of mail from the state GOP asking me if I wanted an absentee ballot. I humbly declined — by throwing them in the trash.
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t mind waiting in the voter queue to do my civic duty. I hate early voting. Not just the task, but the actual laws that allow it to happen.
I believe the actual day we set aside on the calendar for either a primary or general election means something, that there is an “Election Day” when all Americans participate in one of the few democratic traditions in a republic that is delightfully devoid of pomp and circumstance and wigs on judges.
It’s Election Day, not “Election Week” or “Election Month,” as has suddenly become the norm this past decade.
Early voting, as it is called, is when a person votes — usually by absentee ballot — ahead of Election Day. Driven by two factors, it’s more common now.
First, through pressure from both political parties, states liberalized their absentee ballot laws. In the past, you had to be unable to reach a polling place during normal voting hours on Election Day to qualify for an absentee ballot. Now states offer what is commonly called “No-excuse absentee balloting.” All you need to get an absentee ballot is to ask for one.
This has led to the second reason for the spike in early voting.
With absentee ballots now available for any reason, both political parties have made “vote banking” a key campaign tactic. This means state political parties mail out absentee ballot applications to their likeliest supporters ensuring a number of votes are, to quote Milwaukee Bucks radio announcer Ted Davis in a different context, “in the bank and earning interest.”
For this year’s presidential election, Wisconsin will have the fourth-earliest start time for residents to apply for an absentee. According to a calendar at the website EarlyVoting.net, Wisconsin residents can start obtaining a November absentee ballot on Sept. 20. That’s a little over a month after next Tuesday’s partisan primary — and more than a month and a half before Election Day.
Even the name for this stuff is Orwellian: Government officials call it “in-person absentee voting.” It begins Oct. 22 and lasts until Nov. 2, according to the Government Accountability Board.
So for all the talk about early voting being a convenience and the like, the reality is that it has nothing to do with increasing participation in the democratic process or voter turnout.
Early voting is just a massive scheme enabling the parties to herd their base voters. Democrats have their best success with the in-person option, often involving massive efforts to deploy third-party groups running vans full of voters or marching college students to vote at various city halls. Republicans prefer the mail-in option, carpeting their supporters with applications for an absentee ballot on multiple occasions, as they try to bank as many votes as possible.
But get used to it. The practice is here to stay — and could very likely expand in future elections. Statistics show participation in early voting grew from 20 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2008 as both parties figured out ways to master the practice.
“Election Day” will no longer mean “the day we vote.” If we were honest, we would simply call it “Sale Ends Now,” or, less cynically, “The Day We Count Most of the Votes.”
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected].