The integrity of that space is broken when some citizens cast their ballots as early as 46 days before the election, as some states allow. A lot can happen in those 46 days. Early voters are, in essence, asked a different set of questions from later ones; they are voting with a different set of facts. They may cast their ballots without the knowledge that comes from later candidate debates (think of the all-important Kennedy-Nixon debates, which ran from late September 1960 until late October); without further media scrutiny of candidates; or without seeing how they respond to unexpected national or international news events — the proverbial “October surprise.”
While they cite the 1960 debate a more relevant example happen last year. Anyone remember the first presidential debate? A debate that even MSNBC proclaimed Romney the winner and made the election a race. Here was one tweet from leading election law lawyer Rob Kelner after the debate.
Tonight's debate, and the reaction to it, are a dramatic reminder of why early voting is a disastrous mistake for the country.The professors also argue how it destroys the process and ironically increases the power of emotion over rational thought, negative advertising over deliberate judgment, etc.:
— Robert Kelner (@robkelner) October 4, 2012
More fundamentally, early voting changes what it means to vote. It is well known that voters can change their minds — polls always go up and down during a campaign season. A single Election Day creates a focal point that gives solemnity and relevance to the state of popular opinion at a particular moment in time; on a single day, we all have to come down on one side or the other. But if the word “election” comes to mean casting votes over a period of months, it will elide the difference between elections and polls. People will be able to vote when the mood strikes them — after seeing an inflammatory ad, for example. Voting then becomes an incoherent summing of how various individuals feel at a series of moments, not how the nation feels at a particular moment. This weakens civic cohesiveness, and it threatens to substitute raw preferences and momentary opinion for rational deliberation.
Thank you to Professors Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis for giving us something to think about.