What can be said about a voter who casts a ballot more than a month before Election Day?
At minimum one might observe that, for this person, there is no conceivable event that could bring a change of mind -- no scandal, no debate, no outline of policy, no international crisis, no slip-up by a candidate, no new inspiration. It's all written in stone.
It basically says that the early voter (at least the one who has a choice) is so closed-minded, so partisan, so hardened in a particular world view, that even boulders will bounce off his skull.
This voter actually embodies a political carelessness that would make the Founding Fathers churn in their graves. It's not Election Day anymore; it's Election Month.
There is wisdom to having a specific Election Day. On that day, every voter has the same information as every other. There are no surprises. The campaign is over. The scandals and missteps and policy debates have run their course. It's time to decide.
Election Day is a tool that helps to ensure that voters exercise their individual wisdom based, more or less, on the same data set. It's a snapshot in time. To string voting out over a month or more is to accept uninformed voters.
Uninformed? Let us be clear. These voters are informed with all that has happened up until they cast their votes. But they are not fully informed because events could transpire up until election day that could be game-changers. In that case, the early voter has deprived himself of the opportunity to be a responsible citizen because it's too late to change.
This is a significant issue these days because the tide of early voting in America is rising. In 2008, 31 percent of all votes cast were cast before Election Day, and much larger percentages in some swing states. In Colorado, for instance, a whopping 79 percent of votes were cast early. North Carolina and Nevada were in the 60 percent range. Florida had 52 percent early voting.
These were mail-in ballots. But in Iowa this week, voters were allowed to cast ballots in person. In this election cycle, it's estimated that early voting could account for as much as 40 percent of the vote.
The whole phenomenon is profoundly changing the dynamics of political campaign strategy, with both parties trying to figure out how to exploit it. This can't be very good for the fabric of our political system. The country hasn't even heard any debates between the presidential candidates.
If you say "Who cares?" we've got a boulder for you. Self-government isn't supposed to be easy. Don't you owe it to your country to endure to the end, even in seemingly endless presidential campaigns?
The question we pose is "What if?" What if the unthinkable happened and a candidate, for instance, died in the month before Election Day? You voted for the dead guy, so now what? Such an event would be catastrophic for the political system, raising constitutional and party issues on a grand scale.
What if some major act of corruption were revealed? You voted for the crook, but you wouldn't have if you'd known. Now you'd like to change your vote but you can't.
What too many people take for granted is the apparent stability of our political system. In truth it's more like a wobbly punt in a football game. The ball can bounce any which way depending on its trajectory and orientation at impact.
Likewise, our system of government turns on a lot of imponderables. It turns on chance and nuance and perception. It may look orderly to some, but in reality it's a sloppy mess. An old saying is grounded in truth: Democracy is the worst form of government ever devised, except for all the others. The least we can do as good citizens is wait for all the data to be in and then vote together on the same day.
Some might argue any game-changing event that would cause an early voter to regret a choice would be very rare indeed. But then a country as remarkable as the United States of America is also rare. The mere fact that such events could occur in the month leading to Election Day -- and the statistical certainty that they will one day -- should give all voters pause.
Election Day wasn't set up for individual convenience. It contributes to stability.
Now if early voting could be replaced with e-voting -- using secure online methods -- we could have the best of both worlds: a complete political picture and convenience. Meanwhile, we'll have to suffer with the notion that more than one-third of voters are happy to be less than fully informed.