Early Voting Begins in Nevada, and why it should be expanded

Vote Early And it’s on! Early voting has started in Nevada, and for those not already saturated by campaign information we share the times for voting in at least one of the rural counties (Humboldt):

Monday October 24 through Friday October 28: Early voting can be done at the County Courthouse (Winnemucca) from 8 am to 6:00 pm.  The Clerk’s office will be open from 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday October 29, and Early Voting hours are 8 am to 8 pm from Monday October 31 through Friday November 4.

You know you’re a battleground when POTUS shows up.  The Las Vegas Sun covers his speech on behalf of Hillary Clinton and Catherine Cortez Masto.  The billionaire’s fishwrapper of record gains the dubious distinction of being the only major paper to endorse Donald Trump.  Let’s Talk Nevada has Pictures, and interesting information, well worth the click over to their site.   There’s always at least one willing to douse the enthusiasm for early voting – and this year he doesn’t disappoint.

“There is no good reason – for almost every voter – not to wait until Election Day, so you have the maximum information, including something that could break in the final fortnight. A scandal. A revelation about someone’s character. More information.”  [RGJ]

Here’s what’s fundamentally wrong with this analysis.  First, it promotes one of the worst features of American campaign politics – the last minute unanswerable attack.  This, for many election cycles, has been a campaign scheduling trick designed to attack an opponent with a charge which due to the timing is predicated on the notion that the victim of the ploy doesn’t have time to answer. Thus, all the dirty tricks are withheld until the last possible effective moment – like 24 hours before election day.   So, if I were to employ this artifice I’d have a lovely Photo-Shopped graphic of my opponent embracing a wild-eyed maniac beheading a baby while slaughtering puppies and kittens, all presented in a shiny colorful mailer.   There’s no time to adequately debunk this bit of bluster.  Early voting allows a campaign to avoid this destructive, and definitely uninformative, tactic.

Secondly, the argument is dismissive of any effort to relieve the burden on voting registrars, election officials, and county clerks.  There was a time in which all voting could be done in 24 hours without long delays and attendant problems – but that day has long gone in the face of population increases.

In 1980 Clark County, Nevada had approximately 463,067 residents, the 2014 estimates place it at 2,069,450.  Washoe County had 193,623 residents at the time of the 1980 elections; the 2014 estimate is 436,797.  Mineral County is the only statistical area in which there has been a population decrease since 1980, and others like Nye County have experienced significant growth from 9,408 to 45,456 or Lyon County growing from 13,594 to 53,334 during the same period. [NV Demo]  [WRDC pdf]

The counter, of course, is that as populations increase so do the number of polling sites.  Not really.  An EAC study reported that the number of polling sites increased with some regularity until 2000 at which time the precincts  actually decreased.

Table 13a. Number of Precincts Nationwide, 1980–2004
Number of
Election Year Precincts
2004 185,994
2002 189,900
2000 184,850
1998 185,444
1996 180,834
1994 181,497
1992 177,691
1990 177,101
1988 178,034
1986 176,326
1980 167,037

While it might be tempting to engage in some conspiracy theories at this point – and some voter suppression schemes do tend to reduce polling places in minority and lower income neighborhoods – there’s also a plausible explanation incorporating the notion that polling has become far more expensive with the electronic voting machines required.

Therefore, given the populations increases, the increased cost of election equipment, and the costs of staffing precinct polling sites, combined with the pressure to reduce local government budgets, one has to either accept that elections are going to be more expensive (and budget accordingly) or hope that early voting periods allow a local government to spread overtime and equipment budgets over a longer period of time so that additional costs aren’t incurred.

Third, the argument while traditionalist is also condescending to those who don’t have the luxury of waiting in line for three hours to vote.  Nevada includes time and distance into the allowance of time off to vote on a work day:

NRS 293.463  Employees may absent themselves from employment to vote: Procedure; penalty.
     1.  Any registered voter may be absent from his or her place of employment at a time to be designated by the employer for a sufficient time to vote, if it is impracticable for the voter to vote before or after his or her hours of employment. A sufficient time to vote shall be determined as follows:
     (a) If the distance between the place of such voter’s employment and the polling place where such person votes is 2 miles or less, 1 hour.
     (b) If the distance is more than 2 miles but not more than 10 miles, 2 hours.
     (c) If the distance is more than 10 miles, 3 hours.
     2.  Such voter may not, because of such absence, be discharged, disciplined or penalized, nor shall any deduction be made from his or her usual salary or wages by reason of such absence.
     3.  Application for leave of absence to vote shall be made to the employer or person authorized to grant such leave prior to the day of the election.
     4.  Any employer or person authorized to grant the leave of absence provided for in subsection 1, who denies any registered voter any right granted under this section, or who otherwise violates the provisions of this section, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

If the county can’t spread out the time for voting, then it’s entirely possible a person could be 2 miles from the polling site and have to wait in a two hour line.  And, presumably, the employer could dock paychecks within the reading of the law.

Aside from the practical matter of long lines and tenuous guarantees of permission to take time off to vote, there’s the matter of condescension.  To argue that voting is the ultimate act of civic duty which everyone should embrace no matter the personal cost, is perilously close to the contention that voting is a privilege.  No amount of flag waving, banner hoisting, and parading about, will remove the scent of patronization – those who are really truly patriotic will vote even if it costs them dearly – which is very nice for the boss and those who can take the entire day if they wish, and not so convenient for those who can’t.

Finally, in an election season such as this one – interminable, and more annoying than necessary – early voting gives a citizen a way to say: Whatever someone else may want is fine – just let me get this over with!

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