This week, Maryland began its first election with early voting. The recently passed early voting laws in Maryland allow for voters to cast ballots in-person up to ten days prior to the election (not counting Sunday.)
The technical distinction between absentee voting and early voting is that with early voting you are not required to have an excuse for not voting on Election Day. Also, early voting is typically performed using the same method as Election Day voting, rather than on an absentee-type paper ballot.
Early voting is an attempt to address significant problems facing elections today. Allowing voters to cast their ballot early alleviates traffic and lines at the polls. Also, allowing a greater time period to vote will almost certainly increase overall voter turnout simply because it may be more convenient. Texas has even allowed “curbside voting” during early voting, a process where, if you call in advance, you can get a poll worker to bring the ballot to your car as you arrive at the precinct (only for those who have difficulty walking or standing for extended periods, of course.) I, for one, support the use of Applebee’s Carside To Go technology on Election Day.
With many hurdles being lowered by early voting, I began thinking, why doesn’t my home state of New York allow early voting? Why doesn’t every state? (Check here to determine whether your state has early voting procedures.) It turns out there are a few hurdles which may be standing in the way of many states from enacting early voting measures.
Wait a minute, HOW long do I have to work?!?
Election precincts are notoriously difficult to staff for ONE day, much less a week or more leading up to that election. Many registrars across the nation have difficulties finding enough poll workers which has been directly linked to potentially one million voter errors in a single election (as referenced previously at stateofelections.com). The hours are long, and the pay is minimal, but at least registrar’s only have to convince poll workers to work one day. With early voting, poll workers would be working multiple days and shifts at a similar pay rate, which could easily deter many workers from signing up, further exacerbating the registrar’s problems of keeping fully staffed precincts. Although the point should be made that allowing for early voting will spread out voters and may negate the stress of a single-day election for the poll-workers, this pronounced issue of staffing may be an issue for any state with increasing budget deficits.
A Constitutional Issue?
The biggest hurdle many states may face is their own constitutional language. In 2005, MD lawmakers enacted Chapter 5 of the 2005 Laws of Maryland (Senate Bill 478) and Chapter 61 of the 2006 Laws of Maryland (House Bill 1368) which would have initiated early voting. However, in 2006, the MD Supreme Court invalidated these proposals, claiming the change would be inconsistent with the State’s Constitution (which reads Election Day, “shall take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November” and that eligible voters must vote, “in the ward or election district in which he resides.”) Politicians in many states which have not enacted early voting measures may have to deal with similar language in their laws, as well as any partisan issues that come with attempting to change any election law. For instance, a MD primary candidate who was once-governor initially vetoed an early voting law which he is now calling for his supporters to take advantage of.
Voter support of early voting, however, appears to be high. Maryland voters approved a Constitutional Amendment with approximately 71% of the vote, which opened the door for that state to become the 32nd in the United States to permit no-excuse early voting. Since 2004, 11 states have added provisions allowing for early voting. It is possible that within just a few years, nearly every state will have adopted measures allowing early voting, but they will all certainly have to navigate through their own laws to address it.
Although there are many issues to consider, overcoming them in the name of early voting appears to be a worthwhile goal. Complaints and controversy over voter fraud and error potentially increasing with early voting have largely been unfounded, and the objectives of increasing turnout and alleviating issues of Election Day are extremely valuable. Still, the issue remains a political hot topic and will certainly be making more headlines in the coming years.
Alex Grout is a student at William & Mary School of Law and an editor at Stateofelections.com