Election Day is still months away, but early voting may give some lawmakers an advantage at the polls.
Election Day used to mean early risers, long lines and 30-minute waits in the chilly air of early fall. But with the advent of early voting, November voting has become a last resort for many constituents who have decided on a candidate and would rather just “get it done.”
Across the country, early voting in many states has Democrats and Republicans wrangling to gain an edge at the voting booth in what has increasingly been viewed as an opportunity for one political party to gain an advantage during election time. Banking on what voters will perceive as most convenient, Democratic-led legislatures have passed bills expanding early voting in Illinois as well as in other states, including Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota, and have also implemented the places, days and exact times people can vote early.
At the same time, a few Republican-led legislatures are limiting early voting opportunities. Republicans who believe early voting could be used as a Democratic tool for manipulating election outcomes have instituted policies in some states, such as Ohio, to prevent early voting on Sundays or during evening hours. By contrast, liberal groups are designing a voting schedule to allow voting on weekends in several locations in states including Missouri.
The political gamesmanship is spurred on by the assumption that early voting will give Democrats an advantage at the polls while lessening Republicans’ chances of winning congressional and gubernatorial races. The belief is largely grounded in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012 when Barack Obama utilized early voting as part of his winning strategy to claim the White House.
Although many analysts believe early voting fails to give either party a political advantage, reports from the Republican National Committee (RNC) claim that early voting gave Obama the edge during his re-election campaign because then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney could not surpass Obama’s lead in early voting.
Over 30 states, including Illinois, now permit early voting. According to Illinois law, registered voters may cast a ballot by personal appearance at a location established by an election authority before Election Day without having to give a reason for wishing to vote early. Early voting begins 15 days before a general election.
Peoria residents like the idea of having an option. “I like having a choice about when I vote,” says Sandy Novak, a Peoria resident for 32 years. “I usually know early on which candidate I’m going to choose, so for me there’s really no point to waiting until November.”
As for whether the system favors one party over another, Stacy Milano, a Democrat, says parties who know how to us the system to their advantage will benefit. “I think the system itself is pretty neutral,” she says. “The advantage comes from knowing how to work it to your favor. Obviously, Obama and his campaign strategists made it work for them. But I don’t think early voting is essentially designed to favor the Democratic Party.”
“I’m a patriot,” says Rob Livingston, a Republican and Peoria resident for 74 years. “I always vote on Election Day in November. Do I think early voting favors one party over another? I don’t see how. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”