Thursday, November 10, 2005

More On Voting - The Why Of When

Via Election Law Blog: David Broder asks the question 'Why Vote on Tuesdays?', or rather, he covers the question, looking at the history of Tuesday voting, its reasons, and the movements to change the day:

And why Tuesday? The debates from the time tell us that Tuesday was deemed the most convenient day for what was then a largely rural society. Saturday was a workday on the farm. Sunday was the Lord's day, not to be profaned with partisanship. But it took a day for many farmers to reach the county seat in those horse-and-buggy times, so Monday was out as well. Tuesday or Wednesday would let them vote and return home in time for the weekend. But Wednesday was market day for many communities, so Tuesday it became by process of elimination.

What was a matter of convenience in 1845 is hardly the same today in our urban society. It is a working day for most Americans, which means that they have to leave early for work (as I did Tuesday to vote in Virginia) or stop by the polling place at the end of their day.

That means, among other things, that polls tend to be crowded in the early morning and the late afternoon and early evening, delaying or frustrating many would-be voters.

Tuesday is also a school day, and since many communities (including mine) use schools as polling places, they either have to cancel classes or arrange for the buses to discharge and pick up students from parking lots crowded with the cars of voters.
I think the historic reasons for voting on Tuesday are too easily dismissed as inapplicable today. Here's how I see the other available days of the week - with special consideration given to the young folks out there and how they apportion their week (being that I'm on the CYD Board and all):

Monday: Sucks. Why damn any candidate or issue with an pissy electorate with a case of the Mondays?

Wednesday: Hump Day! It's just so middle-of-the-road, no? Meetings scheduled, tedium of the work week, too marginal a day for an increasingly marginalized electorate.

Thursday: Thirsty. For college kids, 'nuff said. Thursday, by the way, is my personal favorite day of the week because none of the weekend's mystery has evaporated and there's so much Friday-promise in the air. With all that personal life distraction and end of the week rushing, is adding a vote going to help? What if NBC ever makes Thursday Must-See TV again?

Friday: No, no, no, Friday is every bit as much for drinking as Thursday and in fact is a Thursday recovery day and Saturday prep day. Friday is for happy hour.

Saturday and Sunday: Those days are for football, which leads me to chant in response to those who say/believe turnout would be higher on a weekend - a time specifically reserved for doing non-work, no-responsibility things - "bulllllsh***tttt, bulllllsh***tttt!" C'mon. That's like that national holiday idea - I just refuse to believe a vast majority of people wouldn't take that as a cue to get out of town, and no, they wouldn't sign up to vote absentee first. This country has an awfully backwards view of vacation time anyway (i.e.: we don't get any compared to the rest of our well-rested, well-traveled, broadened-horizoned, Euro friends).

So we've got poor little Tuesday left - a day with no point and nothing to look forward to save its Election Day honors.

Before testing a hypothesis with too many variables - like swapping the election day (weekends? what about Seventh Day Adventists, Orthodox Jewish, strict Christian sects, for whom one of the two days could not be used for voting?), why not add in some of the factors mentioned in the article such as increased vote-by-mail awareness and availability or early voting days or weeks?

Of course, anytime you allow people to vote early, you'll still get a bunch who want to wait because the story isn't finished yet. Campaigns design, and people expect, a narrative arc that - in a perfect world - hits the climax on Election Day or the day or two before. West Virginia implemented early voting - available at all (most?) county courthouses. For the two weekends prior to E-Day, voters could run on down and vote. How simple! It sort of attracted a bunch, and sort of didn't. It was new, so perhaps its popularity will grow.

California has some particular early vote stumbling blocks - for one thing, we're a HUGE state. A huge sprawling state. We don't have 58 centralized county courthouses. In San Francisco, a 7mi by 7mi city, having early vote available at City Hall makes it relatively accessible to anyone with a Muni pass or two legs. In Los Angeles, very few people would be close enough to, say, city hall, or the Norwalk-based registrar/recorder's office to make the effort.

And as we've established in earlier posts, apparently no Californian wants to get close to a courthouse - lest they be tapped for jury duty (dear god, no! give me my duty-free right to vote, please!).

I'm highly, highly skeptical about moving Election Day to a weekend or any other day of the week. Streamline polling places, encourage absentee voting (which is SO simple and has SUCH an efficient turnaround time - and I'm an LA County voter, so if they can be efficient . . .), or implement early vote.

After all the horses have been led to such easily flowing water, they're going to have to dip their heads and drink on their own. How much more must we do?


doughnut70 said...

I strongly disagree with some of this. Early voting and all mail ballots which are starting to receive some popularity lead to increased turnout, but voters cast their ballots as soon as they get the chance without really studying the issues or giving the campaigns time to raise the reasons for alternatives.

cd said...

I agree that those are concerns. But then again, with ballot measures, technically speaking, as soon as the ballot language is finalized and published, voters have all the information they need. They may not have all the advocay information, nor may the invest as much time as you or I - in all our wonkyness - would devote to reading and contemplating the effects of proposals, but that's not something any law or scheme can change.

Do you think moving the day of voting would help?

What if early voting were allowed starting the weekend before Election Day? Giving people 4 days or so to vote? What about having a week for voting, with one day during which all traditional voting places were open and the other days during which voting was available at all local courthouses?

Anonymous said...

You are already seeing smarter campaigns (i.e. not the recent CA prop campaigns) manage their election arc to run an absentee ballot track that gets most of the main advocacy work out just as absentee ballots are being received. We should be seeing more of that, and I think that largely resolves some of the issue CD is raising.

Anonymous said...

On a different but related topic, I find it amusing that I visited my polling place four times on election day, but I didn't vote there. I voted absentee because I knew I would be busy doing GOTV on election day. I just find it funny that someone who spent more time at the polling place than anyone but the election workers didn't even vote at the polling place.

doughnut70 said...

I don't think moving the election day would help, but I do think allowing early voting was an improvement and I think they could expand it.

As for the comment about voters not putting in the time they should, I disagree strongly. I think the law has the ability to encourage that and should do so. Remember if the measures that were voted on yesterday had not gone through the test of fire in a full campaign, most of them would have passed.

The way the system is set up now, it encourages people to go to their neighbors and try and persuade them that change is needed. That forces an interaction of debate and argument that is critical for an open society to survive and thrive.

Anonymous said...

Wait, I thought you were against early voing?

The law does NOT have the ability to make people care about the issues and spend time studying them any more than grading has the ability to make students not wait until the last minute and grind out crap.

Early voting doesn't mean there will be no time for deliberation. THere is already lag time between ballot publication and when the absentees hit mailboxes.

The system encourages, for people like us, neighborhood advocacy.

For others it doesn't encourage much of anything.

doughnut70 said...

I hate to sound like John Kerry, but I am against early voting except when I am for it. Seriously, I don't mind having a central polling location open for a week before the election (You are right, I don't like longer than that).

To think that ballot arguments give all or even most of what a person should consider when they vote, I think is wrong. I also think the idea of crazy people like us trying to persuade our neighbors is the most important part of the system because it reinforces who the boss is supposed to be. Trying to cajole, plead or whatever to get the undecided or the uncaring to change their perspective is important in and of itself and I don't want to see that part of the system lost.

Anonymous said... one thing that Tuesdays have going for them is that they're not Monday, that's not much of a claim, but hey at least they can always say, "but I'm not Monday." Which is very very true!