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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Early Voting

Early voting has been on the rise. The Fairfax Times reports on efforts in Virginia to make early voting easier:

A substantial number of Virginia voters also cast ballots early in 2008 despite having to provide an excuse, said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

In Virginia, there have been past attempts to loosen up the early voting laws. But those efforts have generally failed, McDonald said.

Republican lawmakers in Virginia tend to think anything that grants easier access to the ballot will help Democrats, who tend to attract support from minorities, the poor and young people -- groups who are less likely to vote, McDonald said.

But he said easing early voting restrictions actually could help Republicans. Those who typically vote for Republican candidates tend to vote in every election. Early voters also tend to be regular voters, and early voting has not really attracted new voters, he said.

Easing limitations for mail-in absentee ballots also is not likely to increase turnout. People who regularly vote are likely to take advantage of voting by mail and could increase the cost to run an election, Michaelson and McDonald both said.

Election officers would need to hire people to count and examine the mailed ballots plus staff polling locations on Election Day, they said.

Other concerns cited by some lawmakers include worries about vote fraud and the loss of ballot secrecy, McDonald said.

Some states, such as Oregon, have eliminated polling sites and use only mail-in ballots, which has increased turnout for those states and actually decreased costs, he said.

"What are you willing to live with? Weigh these low instances [of fraud] versus making it more convenient for people to vote," McDonald said.