Early vot­ing changes elec­tions

Early vot­ing is go­ing to change the way elec­tions are run and the way the me­dia cov­ers them.

The Covington News - - News -

I went to the lo­cal elec­tion of­fice in DeKalb County last week to cast an early bal­lot for the Nov. 4 elec­tion, think­ing it would be a good idea to vote ahead of time and beat the crowds on elec­tion day.

Fool­ish me. When I ar­rived a few min­utes be­fore 8 a.m., there was al­ready a line of 200 peo­ple or more fill­ing a long hall­way in the cav­ernous bu i l d i n g that used to be a Home De­pot store. The early vot­ers moved steadily for­ward as I filled out my bal­lot ap­pli­ca­tion, but the length of the line didn’t get any shorter — it quickly filled in be­hind me and got longer as would-be vot­ers kept stream­ing in.

I asked one of the poll­work­ers, “Is it like this all day?”

“Yes,” shen­od­ded, and­mo­tioned for me and the peo­ple around me to keep mov­ing.

This is a scene be­ing re­peated all across Ge­or­gia in coun­ties big and small as we get closer to a his­toric pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

By the close of busi­ness on Oct. 17, the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice said nearly 636,000 peo­ple had al­ready cast early bal­lots. At that point in time, there were 11 more busi­ness days when peo­ple could vote early. With an av­er­age of 35,000 to 40,000 peo­ple a day cast­ing bal­lots, that would in­di­cate the pro­jec­tion of one mil­lion early vot­ers will be met.

It’s not just Ge­or­gia where we are see­ing th­ese en­er­gized waves of early vot­ers. The same dy­namic has been ob­served in states like North Carolina, which started its early vot­ing pe­riod last week.

Nearly 114,000 peo­ple turned out for the first day of early vot­ing in the Tar Heel state, a num­ber that ex­ceeded the 2004 to­tal by 40 per­cent, and state of­fi­cials re­ported that early-vote lo­ca­tions were over­whelmed.

There are na­tional and lo­cal fac­tors that have con­trib­uted to this phe­nom­e­non.

Na­tion­ally, Barack Obama’s cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion has been mak­ing a co­or­di­nated ef­fort to reg­is­ter mil­lions of new vot­ers and get them out to the polls. Black vot­ers are re­spond­ing to that ef­fort and turn­ing out in force be­cause they see a black can­di­date who has a re­al­is­tic chance of winning the pres­i­dency.

Closer to home, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Gen­eral As­sem­bly amended the elec­tion laws to al­low Ge­or­gia vot­ers to cast ab­sen­tee bal­lots dur­ing the 45 days prior to the elec­tion without have to pro­vide any ex­cuses for vot­ing early.

The change in the law was adopted be­cause Repub­li­cans tra­di­tion­ally have been the group more likely to vote by ab­sen­tee bal­lot, but that logic has been turned on its head this year. Large num­bers of black vot­ers are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the early vot­ing law, as is ev­i­dent from the vot­ing statis­tics.

The trend is so wide­spread that the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sec­re­taries of State is pro­ject­ing that up to 30 per­cent of the votes na­tion­wide will be cast be­fore elec­tion day gets here.

Early vot­ing is go­ing to change way elec­tions are run and the way the the me­dia cov­ers them. The Val­dosta Daily Times, for ex­am­ple, re­cently wrote an in­house ed­i­to­rial ex­plain­ing that the South Ge­or­gia news­pa­per was not go­ing to en­dorse any candidates this year.

“With po­ten­tially a third of Lown­des County’s votes al­ready cast, it seems too late to make any en­dorse­ment other than if you haven’t al­ready voted, please vote within the next two weeks of early/ad­vanced vot­ing or on Elec­tion Day,” the Daily Times com­mented.

Early vot­ing will also make it harder for po­lit­i­cal candidates to change the mo­men­tum of a cam­paign by run­ning neg­a­tive ads in the clos­ing days. Th­ese last-minute at­tacks will have less ef­fect on an elec­tion where many of the vot­ers have al­ready cast their bal­lots.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials who have a feel for this kind of thing tell me that Ge­or­gia’s voter turnout will be at least 85 per­cent this year, with some coun­ties hav­ing as much as 90 to 95 per­cent of the el­i­gi­ble vot­ers cast­ing bal­lots.

We have had many elec­tions where less than half of the reg­is­tered vot­ers turned out, which means the candidates elected to pub­lic of­fice had the sup­port of less than one-quar­ter of the vot­ers they would be gov­ern­ing.

If the turnout this year is as high as pre­dicted, then we’ll be elect­ing pub­lic of­fi­cials who ac­tu­ally have the sup­port of a true ma­jor­ity of the elec­torate. That’s not a bad thing.

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