A lot can happen in the weeks leading up to an election – just ask George W. Bush. However, much has changed regarding voting in America since that chad-hanging, razor-tight election between Bush-the-younger and Al Gore. Some of those differences revolve around casting a ballot before election day; others have to do with voting requirements. How does early voting change elections? The answer is not as simple as one might think.
Americans Support Early Voting
A recent Gallup poll indicates that 78% of Americans favor voting early. However, when it comes down to various requirements, folks are more circumspect. Fifty-nine percent oppose limiting drop boxes, but 79% believe people should be obligated to show photo identification to cast a ballot. A look at Ballotpedia shows that today, October 19, Iowa, Kansas, Tennessee, and Rhode Island join the 16 other states that have already commenced – not counting any states in which early voting dates vary by county or Guam and the Virgin Islands, of course.
There are a few states with very tight Senate races, and in all three, voting has already begun. Georgia started on October 17, Ohio began even earlier on October 12, and in Pennsylvania – where the Senate race between Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman may decide the balance of congressional power – it’s up to individual counties to determine when residents may begin to cast their ballots.
Early voting can cut both ways when it comes to determining the outcome of an election. On one hand, it removes – or at least moves up – a potential October surprise. Campaigns that count on dropping a bombshell against an opponent must think carefully about the timetable. Should they release their negative information before early voting or wait until the week leading up to the election for maximum impact? If a majority in a specific state vote early, holding on to a surprise until late in the game may not achieve the greatest possible effect.
In the 2020 election, as many as 99 million people – depending on which source you consult – participated by November 3. The case could be made that this massive early voting turnout was due to the pandemic. By the time the Hunter Biden laptop bomb exploded on the pages of the New York Post, millions had already mailed in their votes. That, coupled with the social media throttling of that story, led to many saying they would have changed their vote had they known about the scandal.
By and large, statistics show that Democrats tend to vote early while Republicans prefer to show up on election day. Gallup reports that 95% of Dems prefer early voting, compared to 60% of Republicans. Here too lies a double-edged sword. Incumbent President Donald Trump urged his supporters to vote on election day, and since that time, many political observers have asserted that was one of Mr. Trump’s mistakes in 2020.
But early voting is only half of it. In the last presidential election, some states permitted counting votes beyond the appointed election day. This occurred in Pennsylvania, where mail-in ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. the day of the election were counted as valid until November 6.
The question is, did 2020 alter how Americans vote going forward, or was it just an aberration? Perhaps early voting is the new normal, and campaigns must simply adapt. Ultimately this midterm election will reveal much more than just who won in each state; it may provide critical information about how Americans vote and who might benefit the most from these changes. Once all those numbers are crunched, you can be sure candidates and campaigns will adjust their strategies for maximum benefit.
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