- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Whether the long lines at polling places during early voting were the result of anxiety over the anticipated arrival of Superstorm Sandy, pent-up excitement for political candidates or the statewide ballot questions, or simply because voters planned to be busy with other activities on Election Day, the turnout in Maryland was fairly impressive. In Charles County, 11,987 voters, or 12.27 percent of eligible voters, cast their ballots early. Around the state, the early voting turnout was around 11 percent. Many who planned to vote on those days undoubtedly changed their minds when they saw the lengthy queues.
Even with the cancellation of early voting on two days due to the storm, it provided an opportunity for many people to get to the polls when they wish. As to whether early voting is worth the cost is still a subject of debate. In 2010, the first year of early voting in the state, the price tag for the 24 local elections boards was $2.6 million. A story last week in the Maryland Independent noted that cost remains an issue for some.
And, evidence shows that early voting might not be meeting an initial goal of increasing overall turnout. Early voters tend to be regulars who would have shown up at their polling place on the first Tuesday in November anyway. And,, researchers say, they are typically older and better educated than their Election Day cohorts or people who don’t cast a ballot at all.
Of course, as with anything, there are perhaps less obvious drawbacks to voting early. If some new information surfaces on a candidate, causing early voters to change their minds, they’re out of luck if they’ve already cast a ballot.
Early voting also can alter the dynamics of a campaign. A longer early-voting period means campaigns have to rethink when they address certain issues or implement certain strategies.
Maryland’s early-voting period was short (six days planned; five days, with extended hours, post-Sandy). If the overriding goal is to boost turnout, why not opt for a longer time frame? Indiana, for example, has a 29-day early-voting period.
All this talk of increasing voter turnout and convenience is really only prelude to a larger issue that demands serious attention: so-called i-voting (via a PC, mobile phone, iPad etc. over the Internet).
As far back as 1999, a California task force made recommendations about the feasibility of Internet voting. The big concern, of course, was and is security. Heck, enough security concerns accompany current electronic voting systems, such as those that directly record votes.
The task force report concluded that “additional technical innovations” were needed. Still, it recommended four stages of implementation, with the first step “poll site Internet voting.” The final stage was remote Internet voting.
In this increasingly technological age, Maryland lawmakers might want to take a fresh, innovative look at ways to make voting as truly convenient as possible.