The answer to this question may surprise many. A 1792 law required that the electors chosen meet on the first Wednesday in December to decide the winner of the presidency. Elections themselves had to be held within 34 days of that Wednesday, although the actual day of the vote was left to the individual states. Being an agrarian society, voters had to travel to the county seat to vote which required that they be away from their farms since this involved travel. Obviously, voting was prohibited on the Sabbath. An 1845 law finally established Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This was chosen to make sure that it never fell on November 1st, All Saints Day, which would have offended the growing Catholic population. With inauguration day now set in January, obviously electors must “meet” sometime in December at the latest. But again, why Tuesday? The answer lies in the fact that Tuesday was the most convenient day for farmers. Over time, the best answer is that it became a “tradition.”
Regardless, for all intents and purposes, we now have less of an “Election Day” and more of an “election window” which liberals assert must be opened wider. Most of this is motivated by convenience only, which is their number one selling point for moving Election Day to a weekend, or mandating 24-hour voting, or expansion of early voting. In foreign countries, most elections are held on a weekend day with Sunday being the most common. India holds their general election over a four week period on Wednesdays and Thursdays- 8 polling days in all. Yet, India’s voter turnout rate- 57%- is not appreciably greater than that of the United States. And while other countries clearly have higher turnout rates, many of them have compulsory voting that is enforced to varying degrees. In other cases, their recent high rates are attributable to true choice after years of dictatorship or one-party rule.
An American analogy involves primary elections. Most states that hold primaries hold them on Tuesdays, but some hold them on a Saturday or even Thursday. Just looking at 2012 figures in the Republican primaries while the race was still competitive, the average turnout rate for Tuesdays was 58% while that for Saturday primaries was 52.5%. It is doubtful that moving Election Day to a weekend would necessarily increase voter turnout over the long term. Studies have proven this.
People are most motivated to vote when they think their vote will actually count for something, not by the day of the week the Election is held. Should the day actually be moved, it may actually have a negative effect on voting as it would interfere with leisure plans on weekends. As everyone is well aware, primary voters are usually the more hard core political types. If the hard core are not showing up on a Saturday, then it is doubtful the average voter will show up on a Saturday to vote.
As for the 24-hour polling period proposal, this would simply create problems of a different ilk. Suppose the federal government mandates this. By 8:00 P.M., most of those who actually wanted to vote probably have voted. Based on exit polls, the media would then be predicting winners in states where the polls might still be open another 4 hours, or people three hours behind on the west coast would be less inclined to vote despite the time. Why vote when the outcome was obviously decided earlier in the evening? That actually was a problem in Florida in 2000. The western half of the Florida panhandle lies in the central time zone while the remainder lies in the eastern time zone. When results started trickling in indicating a possible close race with Gore, the voters in this area began voting Democratic. Kentucky, Tennessee and South Dakota are essentially split in half between two time zones. Even if the media agreed not to call a race before all the polls were closed from sea to shining sea, east coast voters would have to wait until at least 3:00 AM (assuming polls were open midnight to midnight) to learn the results. Even if we pushed that 24-hour period across two days- say, Friday at 9 PM to Saturday at 9 PM- a media dedicated to report the projected winner would be falling all over itself and reporting results before all the polls were closed. Just look at how they report early voting results.
Then there is the problem of early voting. This is justified mainly in the interest of convenience to the voter. One study noted that in 2004, voter “turn out” increased 6.7% in the 24 states that some kind of early voting at the time. While it may alleviate lines at certain polling places, it creates other problems. Essentially, these are mail-in ballots and it is these paper ballots that are most susceptible to fraud or even alterations.
Currently, 32 states offer some form of early voting. Some require that to vote early without an excuse, you show up at the county election office and cast your vote. The average starting time is 22 days before the election and the average ending time 4 days before the election with the average length of time being 19 days. Some states have what is known as permanent absentee voting wherein the voter opts in to vote via mail. This can be done without citing a reason. Seven other states allow this opt-in provided a reason is given.
Problems were encountered in practically every state that instituted early voting- some more than others- and all most definitely in the transition stage. Florida’s long lines and voter roll confusion in 2004 is one glaring example. Certain ballot questions were left off the actual ballot in Tennessee. Long lines, transitional costs and ballot irregularities are one thing, but the media is often the culprit in other areas. There is truth to the axiom that early voting favors Democrats. Reporting of these trends by the media, however, have an influence on voter behavior on Election Day. We often hear how Democrats are “winning” in Iowa as a result of early voting results. Nationally and in many states but a few, Democratic registration exceeds that of Republicans. Obviously, more ballots from Democrats will show up in early voting results because Democrats outnumber Republicans. Of course, that does not mean that all Democrats voted for the Democratic candidate, but the media reports it as if this is true. When voters show up on the actual Election Day, they come with the realization that the Democrats already have a head start and they, therefore, are more apt to vote Democratic.
In this year’s presidential election, many early voting periods started shortly after or before the first debate between Romney and Obama. That is, these early voters had made up their mind before the two ever faced one another in a debate. Hence, the early voters are either the least informed or the most ideologically set. Conversely, liberals rail against ideological-based closed primaries yet then argue for a virtual ideological-based general election. The undecided and the independent is not going to vote early. It is the registered, tried-and-true Democrat or Republican who will vote early and again, because there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, the media can accurately report that the Democratic candidate leads in early voting just as they can safely say a Republican will win the Republican primary.
Studies conducted indicate that a variety of factors determine whether a person will vote. Mainly, whether their vote will actually mean anything, their perceived benefit from the candidate they vote for should they win and their sense of civic duty or personal gratification in being part of the process must outweigh the time, effort and cost of actually voting. Turnout is somewhere near 50% nationally in the United States- sometimes higher, sometimes lower. Other studies indicate that 16.6% of registered voters fail to vote because they are simply not interested in the race and another 16% who sit out the election because they simply do not like either major party candidate and realize their vote for a third party will be a wasted vote. That accounts for 32.6 of the 50% of registered voters who fail to vote. Then obviously, the remaining 17.4% made that internal calculation that the cost, time or effort in voting did not overcome those other factors.
An increasing number of voters are resorting to absentee voting. This was originally designed to help those who could not make it to a polling place- members of the military, the elderly, the disabled, college students, etc. However, it is increasingly being used as a convenience. This is taken to the extreme in mail-in voting like that which exists in Oregon and Washington. Although those states do not have the highest turnout rates in the country, their rates are certainly above the national average. In the most populous state- California- an estimated 20-30% of voters cast an absentee ballot. In the 2010 midterms, some 14.2 million absentee ballots were cast nationwide, or 15.6% of all voters. In 2012, roughly 25% of all votes were by absentee ballot.
From the 2008 election, we know there were 35.5 million absentee ballot requests of which 27.9 million were actually counted. Of the 7.6 million not counted. 3.9 million never reached the recipient, 2.9 million were never sent back and the remaining 800,000 were rejected by election authorities. The main reasons for rejecting a ballot are no signature or signature irregularities, the ballot not being received by officials in a timely manner, the voter casting a ballot at a polling place also, no application for request on file, soiled ballots, or ballots being returned in incorrect envelopes. These irregularities indicate that the absentee system is rife with potential fraud.
For example, signatures are requested for a reason on absentee ballots and at polling places for a reason. They are the de facto means of identification. If there is no match, there exists a real possibility that the person is not the actual registered voter. And how multiple ballots could end up in a single envelope may alleviate strain on the back of the mail carrier, but it is certainly suspicious.
There is a considerable lack of control by election officials with absentee ballots and mail-in voting. There would likely be even less control with on-line voting. In effect, officials are relying on a voter honor system. Considering that 2% of all absentee ballots are rejected, that is double the rate for in-person voting. The signature problem has shades of 2000 all over. Here you have election officials saying, “Well, this looks like that,” while in 2000 we had officials looking at hanging chads.
These examples of fraud are sometimes just honest mistakes, but we are talking about 800,000 “honest mistakes” here. This is not even a new problem; in the 1990s, several state and local elections were overturned. In the 2012 Florida primary, there were examples of fraud. Not lacking originality, political pundits have created a new phrase- “granny farming.” That is the practice of preying on the elderly and disabled to commit absentee ballot fraud. In Miami-Dade County, charges were brought against “ballot brokers” for altering absentee ballots. In other instances, too many ballots were collected.
While it would be great if every registered voter actually cast a ballot, the greater number of votes cast, the greater the chance for fraud. As the franchise has expanded, so has voter fraud. I am certainly not calling for a return to the good old days where only property owners could vote and the like. But, there is a commonsense solution- photo identification that is readily verifiable.