Whether the long lines at polling places during early voting last weekend were the result of anxiety over the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Sandy, pent-up excitement for political candidates or the statewide ballot questions, or simply because voters plan to be busy with other activities on Election Day, the turnout in Maryland was fairly impressive. Some 134,256 voters, or 3.63 percent of the electorate, cast their ballots on Saturday and Sunday. Others who planned to vote on those days undoubtedly changed their minds when they saw the lengthy queues.
Even with the cancellation of early voting on Monday and Tuesday due to the storm, it has provided an opportunity for many people to get to the polls when they wish. As to whether early voting has been worth the cost is still a subject of debate. In 2010, the first year of early voting in the state, the price tag for the 24 local elections boards was $2.6 million. A story last week in The Gazette of Politics of Business noted that cost remains an issue for some.
And, evidence shows that early voting might not be meeting an initial goal of increasing overall turnout. Early voters tend to be regulars who would have shown up at their polling place on the first Tuesday in November anyway. And, according to researchers, they are typically older and better educated than their Election Day cohorts or people who don’t cast a ballot at all.
Of course as with anything, there are drawbacks — perhaps less obvious — to voting early. If some new information surfaces on a candidate, causing early voters to change their minds, they’re out of luck if they’ve already cast a ballot.
Early voting also can alter the dynamics of a campaign. A longer early-voting period means campaigns have to rethink when they address certain issues or implement certain strategies.
As columnist Barry Rascovar notes this week, Maryland’s early-voting period is woefully short (six days planned; five days, with extended hours, post-Sandy). If the overriding goal is to boost turnout, why not opt for a longer time frame? Indiana, for example, has a 29-day early-voting period.
All this talk of increasing voter turnout and convenience is really only prelude to a larger issue that demands serious attention — so-called i-voting (via a PC, mobile phone, iPad, etc., over the Internet).
As far back as 1999, a California task force made recommendations about the feasibility of Internet voting. The big concern, of course, was — and is — security. Heck, enough security concerns accompany current electronic voting systems, such as those that directly record votes.
The task force report concluded that “additional technical innovations” were needed. Still, it recommended four stages of implementation, with the first step “poll site Internet voting.” The final stage was remote Internet voting.
In this increasingly technological age, Maryland lawmakers might want to take a fresh, innovative look at ways to make voting as truly convenient as possible.