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February 10, 2014 5:03 PM The Unsavory Case Against Early Voting

By Ed Kilgore

The campaign to restrict early voting opportunities around the country that broke out after the 2010 elections gave Republicans control of many states where they did not enjoy a stable majority was usually justified, if justification was even offered, as a budgetary matter. The actual motives were blatantly partisan, based on the greater reliance of Democratic-leaning elements of the electorate on non-Tuesday-work-day voting opportunities, and the superior Democratic deployment of GOTV resources to “bank their vote early” via early voting.

Now that greater early voting has been endorsed by the bipartisan “Lines Commission” the president set up after the 2012 elections, Republican counter-arguments are getting more subtle, says election law wizard Rick Hasen in a column for Slate:

In the past few weeks, a flurry of conservatives have attacked early voting, from Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis in Politico to George Will in the Washington Post to J. Christian Adams in the Washington Times….
The conservative critique against early voting, meanwhile, goes deeper than the partisan concern about boosting Democratic turnout. George Will bemoans early voting as “diffuse and inferior.” Adams says, “Early voting means stubborn voters will make uninformed decisions prematurely. Voting even one week early produces less-informed voters and dumbs down the electorate.” Kontorovich and McGinnis complain: “People will be able to vote when the mood strikes them—after seeing an inflammatory ad, for example. Voting then becomes an incoherent summing of how various individuals feel at a series of moments, not how the nation feels at a particular moment.”
Despite their opposition to early voting, Kontorovich and McGinnis don’t seem to have a problem with “old fashioned absentee ballots.” That’s nonsense. If one really believes that we need a set Election Day to all make a deliberative choice together, absentee balloting is even worse than early voting because it does not even happen in public with other voters and it raises a real risk of voter fraud—much more than in-person voting….
All of these conservative commentators agree that everyone should vote on Election Day to promote “deliberation” or to prevent “stubborn” voters from making “uninformed” or emotional decisions “prematurely.” In short, they argue that we cannot trust the people to decide for themselves when they have enough information to vote.

Worse yet, of course, once you begin making voting rights contingent on a presumed level of knowledge, and treat barriers to voting not as a burden on a fundamental right but as a way to improve voter quality, then you are already well down the road that leads to literacy tests and poll taxes and property requirements. If you happen also to believe, as many conservatives unfortunately do, that liberal politics involves a corrupt vote-buying arrangement between those who confer public benefits and those who receive them, then it becomes very easy to treat a controlled franchise as a curb on the rapacious 47%.

Just as we would not have heard Mitt Romney’s famous “47%” remarks had he known he was being recorded, most conservatives don’t quite want to come out and oppose universal suffrage. Buy they are getting mighty close.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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