“Anything that allows more people to exercise the right to vote is important,” said Mike Henrici, the county’s Democratic elections commissioner after the first weekend of early voting in Otsego County.
Early voting has been around for 30 years – Texas was first – and today 38 states open the polls in advance of Election Day, which this year is Nov. 5. New York was the 38th state and, as elsewhere in the state, polls opened at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the county’s Meadows Office Complex in the Town of Middlefield.
Day One, 50 people voted – the first historic ballot was cast by Kathy Chase, Cooperstown. Day Two, 42, and by noon Monday, Day Three, 34. At that rate, perhaps 400-500 ballots will be cast by Sunday, Nov. 3. There will then be a two-day hiatus, and polls will be open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Election Day.
Chase, who plans to be in Colorado visiting her son on Nov. 5, and thus wouldn’t have been able to vote, said, “If it increases voter turnout, then it’s a good thing.”
Yes, but that seems not to have happened nationwide, although early voting has risen from 7 percent of voters in the early 1990s to 17.3 percent, a U.S. Election Assistance Commission statistic reported in a recent column by Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member in the Washington Times. That doesn’t include absentee ballots.
However, studies out of American University and the University of Wisconsin concluded states with early voting found turnout dropped 3-4 percent, he recounted.
One theory is that, with one Election Day, campaigns mount an intensive effort to get out the vote; having to do so over two weeks – or as much as 45 days in some states – saps the undertaking.
But what about in Otsego County, when you’re talking about very small numbers, particularly this year, when only county and town offices, and three state Supreme Court slots, are on the ballot.
Take the Town of Richfield, where the motivated Protect Richfield neighbors went to court, lost, then took control of the Comprehensive Plan revision to achieve their goal: banning wind turbines from the jurisdiction.
If Protect Richfield organized to drive a dozen house-bound supporters to the polls every day of 10-day early voting, the 120 votes might very likely swing the election in their favor.
Same in the county board’s District 3 (Laurens-Otego), where Democratic organizers put on a push in the June 25 primary to garner 30 write-in votes to win the Independent line for their candidate, Caitlin Ogden. Despite Republican Rick Brockway having his name printed on the Independent ballot line, he garnered only four votes.
When we’re talking that few numbers, it doesn’t take much to tilt the game board.
Don’t kid yourself that couldn’t be happening. The other day, the county Democratic Committee sent out a tightly packed schedule of envelope stuffing and phone banking. The OCDC is energized.
Whether Republicans are caught flat-footed remains to be seen.
Last year, Democrat Antonio Delgado raised $9 million to wrest the 19th District congressional seat from incumbent Republican John Faso, who raised a mere $4 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics’ home page.
With that kind of money at his disposal, you can see what kind of hay Delgado’s 2019 campaign can in the 10-day early-voting period, when Delgado will be running for reelection.
Ironically, given Democratic support of taking big money out of politics, early voting “increases the already skyrocketing cost of political campaigns,” wrote Spakovsky, who now is at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“When so many citizens vote early, any candidate who limits spending on voter mobilization to the last few days before Election Day (instead of engaging in expensive turnout efforts during the entire early voting period) will be at a serious disadvantage,” the column said.
There are other issues.
Spakovsky pointed out that in the 2016 Presidential campaign, early voting began in three states even before Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had completed their debates.
After early votes are cast, candidates can die. Scandals can erupt.
In 2016, Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican and presidential candidate, dropped out a week before the Arizona primary and still received 70,000 votes, many of them early ones.
A CNN analyst pointed out John Kasich came in fourth, behind Rubio by only 6,000 votes. The Ohio governor had been beaten by “Rubio’s ghost.”
If Kasich had continued as a viable alternative to Donald Trump, who knows what our nation’s political landscape would have been today.
In conclusion, Spakovsky mourns the “damage to civic cohesiveness” gained by everyone voting on a single day.
In Cooperstown, for instance, gathering at the Rotary Club’s pancake breakfast at the vets’ club after casting your ballot is as much a part of Election Day as standing in line at St. Mary’s Parish Hall.
Candidates are there. Republicans and Democrats shake hands. There’s a feeling of civic cohesion, if not unity on all the issues.
“Given the costs, particularly its tendency to lower turnout, early voting is a ‘reform’ that states should consider undoing,” said the former FEC commissioner.
An unalloyed good? It seems not.