Early Voting, a Nightmare or a Sign of Change?
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Early voting has begun around the country, with thousands standing in hours-long lines to cast their ballots three weeks away from election day. This comes as millions of Americans across the country take advantage of early mail-in ballots in defiance of President Trump's attempts to cast the election as the ‘most corrupt’ ever.
In Georgia, many early voters waited in line for eight hours or more, which reflects a growing enthusiasm on both sides of the spectrum to vote during this historic election year. Voters are facing increasingly difficult circumstances in an unorthodox election cycle. Given the pandemic and the high rates of infection in many states, in-person voting poses a huge risk for many Americans. Early voting has been mangled with several complications. From court battles with a GOP effort to complicate early balloting to infrastructure problems. For example, the registration portal for voting in Virginia crashed on the last day citizens can sign up to vote. After a lawsuit was filed, a federal court extended the voter registration deadline.
Despite the various issues plaguing early voting efforts, record numbers have been casting their vote. In Texas, 50,000 ballots have already been cast in Harris country (including the city of Houston) and more than 20,000 in Tarrant County (including Fort Worth). In Georgia, a total of 126,000 early votes were cast on Monday alone. CNN estimates that 10.5 million Americans have already voted based on information from 41 states.
As we inch towards election day in November we are beginning to see what the next few weeks have in store. Long waiting times to cast in-person ballots, technical failures, and a political battle which is to heat up. Although these all sound like the continuous nightmare which the past four years have been, there is a glimmer of hope within the scenario which is beginning to unfold. First and foremost Americans are willingly and stubbornly waiting in long lines to carry out their fundamental and constitutional right to vote. An early sign of the importance of the election, with many arguing that we might see the highest voter turnout rate of any American election. The emergence of mail-in voting is also a revolutionary concept for many Americans. It will change the way in which we carry out American elections.
Mail-in voting options have been growing in popularity consistently for years now, but the pandemic will have a great impact on what election days in the future will look like. Over the past few decades, a slow revolution of mail or absentee ballots has emerged. The table above from the US Census, MIT data election lab, shows this change. Up until the 70s, all voting happened on Election Day, in 1978 California became the first state to allow voters to request mail-in ballots for any reason. Today, five states have full vote-by-mail schemes in place. Oregon became the first in 2000 followed by Washington, Utah, Hawaii, and Colorado.
The tradition of in-person voting on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November might soon become a fixture of a romanticized past in American politics, as we move towards alternative methods of casting our votes. The massive and challenging-to-administer change in how people vote adds more anxiety to this election cycle as it prohibits our ability to predict the outcome, yet it may have allowed more Americans than ever to “go” to the polls. It will also change election night because we will, most likely, not be able to find out who “the winner” is on election night. As November 3rd looms, the excitement and nervousness mount in tandem.