By Jim Ellis
Oct. 10, 2018 — There is great discussion within political circles about the importance of early voting and whether an advantage can ascertained for one party or another, or if it is a predictor of the associated election that is decided in the succeeding vote.
As more states adopt early voting – 37 currently have enacted some form of the balloting process – it is still unclear as to whether it brings more voters into the election cycle. Offering elongated voting times does make ballot casting more convenient, no doubt, and Democrats usually are more prodigious in their use of the procedure, but there are no long-term patterns that suggest the use of early voting actually leads to more Democratic victories.
The early voting calendar is also elongating the election process, and the periods for such ballot casting are getting longer. Right now, pre-election voters in Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, North and South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming already are casting their Nov. 6 ballots. This week, Arizona, California, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, and Ohio voters can join them. The states with the latest early voting start dates are Florida (Oct. 27), Maryland (Oct. 25), and West Virginia (Oct. 24).
Those who exercise their right to vote early, however, do miss the critical part of the advertising campaign, which may or may not cause them to re-think and change their votes, and it is clear that early voting has altered the campaign cycle. Thus, it is relatively clear that the more decided voters, possibly meaning the most partisan from the various parties, are the ones who generally cast their votes before Election Day.
The only states that carry early voting through Election Day itself are the three where all votes are cast via mail: Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. All others end early voting before the official Election Day, which is Nov. 6 this year.
The states that end their early process the soonest are Louisiana (Oct. 30), Maine, Maryland, and Tennessee (all Nov. 1). All of the others end between Nov. 2 and 5.
The states with no early voting option are Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Many of these latter states host key Senate, House, and gubernatorial elections. Not having the early voting option, and thus running the campaigns in the traditional manner, may produce different results than the others that employ early voting. This will be particularly true if something major happens in the waning days of the campaign that is a possible direction changer.
Thus, the most hotly contested campaigns that will go down to the wire are the Missouri Senate race between Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), and the Michigan governor’s campaign between former state House Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Attorney General Bill Schuette (R).
Additionally, the major House campaign in KY-6, with Rep. Andy Barr (R) facing off against Amy McGrath (D), the Michigan races featuring the open 11th District (Rep. Dave Trott (R-Birmingham, retiring), and Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester/Lansing) fighting to withstand a top-tier challenge from former defense department official Elissa Slotkin (D) are also key races of note that will not see voters casting early ballots.
After the election it will be interesting to examine if the early voting process, or lack of one, potentially changes any election outcomes. Does early voting add voters, or just allow a new avenue to cast a ballot for people who would have done so anyway? The 2018 election will likely provide us a bit more information to possibly answer these and other similar questions.