Early-Voting Trends Multiply
LIANE HANSEN, host:
One of the few things the Democrats and Republicans can agree on this campaign season is that increasingly people like to vote early. Many states are seeing a steady rise in the number of voters trying to get a jump on Election Day. In the past decade, some 30 states have passed laws allowing people to vote by mail - no questions asked - or in person, weeks ahead of time.
NPR's Audie Cornish reports on how all this is changing campaign dynamics.
AUDIE CORNISH: Ralph Napp(ph) is overseeing a dozen poll workers at a Nashville area library where today the line of voters is winding out the door.
Mr. RALPH NAPP (Poll Worker Supervisor): I have been surprised as I've asked people throughout the day, how long have you waited? And you know, sort of expecting to hear frustration, and I've been amazed at the number of people that have said, oh, it's only been a half hour. This is great.
CORNISH: And Election Day is more than a week away. Still, more than 40 percent of votes cast in Tennessee's last election came from these early voters, and it's not just in Tennessee. Each year, more and more voters in states like Texas and Washington vote early. At a polling station in Miami, voter Josie Smith(ph) says she likes having the option to come in early, rather than needing an excuse to vote by mail.
Ms. JOSIE SMITH (Early Voter): We walked right in here at this particular time. But when we vote in the primaries in the evening, I did have to stand in line and wait to sign my little name, and have them check. And so the process was more cumbersome than it was here. It's very, very smooth early voting.
CORNISH: Long lines, new voting machines, new voter identification rules; there are lots of reasons some voters are trying to avoid voting on November 7th.
Professor CURTIS GANS (Center for the Study of the American Electorate): People, you know, like the convenience. They don't look at the downside risks.
CORNISH: Curtis Gans studies election reform at American University. He says accusations of fraud, glitches in the count, and other concerns have led states such as Florida, Ohio and Georgia to relax early voting restrictions. It gives some election officials breathing room. But Gans argues that early voting doesn't improve voter turnout, and has its own potential for fraud. That's especially a concern when it comes to turning in unsecured absentee ballots. And then there's another reason...
Prof. GANS: Take the 2004 election - if the Friday before that election Osama bin Laden had been captured or the stock market crashed or there was a major issue of moral turpitude proven on one of the candidates, there would have been 20 to 25 million votes that have already been cast. Now, my guess is that if any one of these major events occurred, people would feel really unhappy in that they already cast their ballots.
CORNISH: But Nashville voter Bill and Cindy Johnson, Vincent Martin and Cassie Edenton say that wouldn't sway their vote.
Mr. BILL JOHNSON (Early Voter): I don't think I will change my mind.
Ms. CINDY JOHNSON (Early Voter): This year that's not going to happen.
Mr. VINCENT MARTIN (Early Voter): And I don't think anything could happen in the last week or two that will cause me to change my mind, really.
Ms. CASSIS EDENTON (Early Voter): It's not going to change my mind.
CORNISH: Paul Gronke says this information gap could even have a neutralizing effect on negative campaigning. Gronke heads the Early Voting Information Center in Oregon, where the entire state votes by mail.
Mr. PAUL GRONKE (Early Voting Information Center): But think of it this way. Suppose that campaigns wait to release scurrilous information a day or two before Election Day. With early voting campaigns, can't time it that way. It allows the media time to investigate charges. It allows the other campaign time to react.
CORNISH: So ground level campaigners in Tennessee have learned to carefully budget money and time in the final weeks.
Mr. MARK BROWN (Tennessee Democratic Party Spokesman): That right there's visually the impact of early voting.
CORNISH: Spokesman Mark Brown points to volunteers at a long gray table in the Tennessee State Democrat Call Center with dangling phone cords.
Mr. BROWN: We just have to move everything back, and all those things that we used to do, kind of that last week we're actually doing for three to four weeks before Election Day now.
JENNIFER (Volunteer): My name is Jennifer and I'm calling from the Tennessee Democratic Party headquarters.
CORNISH: Nowadays in states like Tennessee and Oregon, early voting means campaigns have more detailed information about voters, such as who's voted already and where they live. Campaigns can save resources by targeting certain areas culled from early voting lists. And early voters can ignore the onslaught of campaign calls, mail drops and other solicitations for the next week. Audie Cornish, NPR News, Nashville.