A vote for ‘Election Week’
Our presidential campaigns culminate on one day, election day, for our national vote. But the focus is on far more than a single day. The differing rules for early voting in many key battleground states, including Florida and Ohio, have already led to alleged partisan manipulation and last-minute lawsuits.
To address all these voting problems we should consider adopting a uniform, federally mandated early voting period for all voters. Call it Election Week.
On Election Week, polls would be open for seven days, all day for all voters. Beyond taking away one avenue for court involvement in vote-casting disputes, this could offer other significant advantages.
First, it would lead to greater access for more voters, making it easier for Americans to find a time to vote while reducing long lines throughout the week. It is absurd that some citizens have to wait hours in line to vote.
A full week would also avoid problems for religious voters, who might not want to vote on a particular day, while still allowing churches to have “souls to the polls” programs on a Sunday after church.
Second, it would reduce the number of absentee ballots, since more voters will likely be able to find a time to go to the polls.
Third, it could reduce the number of provisional ballots cast – a key area of potential post-election litigation. If voters show up at their precinct without a voter ID, for example, they could return by day seven with the correct documentation.
Fourth, Election Week would lighten the extreme burden on election administrators to run their precincts, tally the results, and announce a winner on a single night.
Fifth, Election Week would ease the hardship on voters dealing with an emergency or disaster, such as New Yorkers or New Jersey voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
In fact, Sandy revealed a major flaw in our election laws, demonstrating that we have no contingency plan for running an election in the wake of a natural disaster. Election Week would help here because it would allow the election to occur throughout the week. We would not need to worry as much about what could happen if a hurricane hit on Election Day because there would be a week-long time frame for voters.
Election Week is a bipartisan concept – so it could receive bipartisan support in Congress. Congress is unlikely to pass broad election reform anytime soon – especially because any proposed voting changes will likely become ideological. But Election Week offers a narrow change that helps both parties. It opens access for all voters — but places limits on the amount of early voting a state must provide.
Democrats, with many constituencies who may have a harder time voting on a single day because of work or other responsibilities, would benefit from voting during the weekend and throughout the work week. Republicans, who until this election usually dominated absentee balloting, would benefit from less need to rely on the remote method. Both should also support a consistent – as opposed to ad hoc – approach to early voting, to promote election integrity.
Moreover, a congressionally required Election Week might remove one impetus for ideological election-eve litigation.
Election day is already bringing stories of long lines and voter confusion. We are talking about a drawn-out process, waiting for local election officials to tally the results and announce winners. Ad hoc and varied early-voting rules may lead to partisan manipulation and follow-up lawsuits.
A uniform Election Week could fix these problems.
PHOTO: Voters wait in line to cast their ballots during the presidential election in Newark, Ohio, on November 6, 2012. REUTERS