Early Voting Grows In Popularity
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We have our federal elections on a Tuesday, I've learned, for reasons of convenience and piety. If it were on Monday, how else could we make the overnight trip by horse and buggy all the way to the county seat without setting out on the Christian Sabbath and there by violating divine law? Well that at least was the reasoning in 1845. Nowadays it means that by voting on a week day that is for most Americans a work day. We artificially create delays at the polls and the hours before and after work. Well, it seems that Americans have finally gotten around to that problem with each recent election, more and more of us have taken advantage of early voting. Paul Gronke is director of the nonpartisan Early Voting Information Center based at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Welcome to the program Professor Gronke.
Mr. PAUL GRONKE (Director, Early Voting Information Center): Thanks for having me Robert.
SIEGEL: And first, how do you measure the trend toward more early voting?
Mr. GRONKE: Well, I think the easiest way to capture this is to look back to 2000. That election had a number of problems and early voting was growing up most of the 1990's. But in 2000, about 14 percent of Americas cast their ballots before Election Day. In this election, we estimated 30 to 33 percent, so it's more than doubled in that eight year period.
SIEGEL: Why do you think that is? What is motivating more and more people to vote early in more states to make it possible?
Mr. GRONKE: Well, a lot more opportunities are available as states have provided more opportunities the voters have flowed. I think of early voting as kind of a early warning booey for turn out. And we saw the tides were rising this election, people were waiting in line already two weeks before election. And on Election Day of course, we still had long lines, even in those states that have a lot of early voting.
SIEGEL: How do you answer this problem with early voting? Yes, many, perhaps most voters have an unshakable preference, weeks before Election Day but things can happen late in the campaign. There could be a late debate or say in this year's California primary, Hillary Clinton did very well in part because early voters may have voted before Barack Obama became a credible challenger.
Mr. GRONKE: Well, that's exactly right. In the California primary, John Edwards received more than 80 percent of his votes from absentee ballots. And by Election Day, he had withdrawn and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton received only 40 percent of their votes from absentee ballots which was about the state average. I don't know how you deal with this other than folks like you and the media, need to start your coverage a lot earlier.
SIEGEL: We didn't start early enough this time, your saying. Are states and counties ready to actually keep a polling place, staffed and open for weeks before Election Day?
Mr. GRONKE: Well, there is going to be some additional costs associated with early voting. What they need to do is they operate what might be called super precincts or voting centers. So they can read some efficiencies by putting the machines and the poll workers in a smaller number of places. But there are security concerns you've got to keep those machines locked up at night. The absentee ballots have to be processed. So there are some administrative headaches here, I think that the rewards for the election officials are avoiding Election Day problems. So I think that they are willing as far as we can see - to shoulder the costs.
SIEGEL: This year, more than 30 percent of votes cast were cast early. What do you think that number is going to be, four or eight years from now?
Mr. GRONKE: I don't expect it to go that much higher, one of the big unknowns here is federal legislation. In the last session of Congress, there were a number of pieces of legislation, including a quite prominent one sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton that would mandate, no excuse absentee balloting in a 15 day early voting period nationwide. It's also not clear that some states - Robert we'll go right up to 70 or 80 percent. Colorado was 75 percent this year, so was North Carolina. Whereas other states, they seem to top out at 35 or 40 percent. So it's not quite clear why in some parts of the country, voters move so enthusiastically to early voting. Whereas in other parts, apparently some people still like to get up on Tuesday and go to that precinct.
SIEGEL: Or maybe in reference to the reasoning from the 19th Century, they're still harvesting the crops?
Mr. GRONKE: That's probably right. They have to hook up the horse and buggy that could be the case.
SIEGEL: Well, Professor Gronke, thank you very much for talking with us about early voting.
Mr. GRONKE: Thank you so much, Robert.
SIEGEL: Paul Gronke of Reed College is the director there of the Early Voting Information Center. He spoke to us from Portland, Oregon.
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