Ohio law has allowed early voting since 2005, but the 2010 election will be only the second time that the full slate of statewide offices will be up for election the ballot. Though the political parties, county election boards and yes, even the Tea Party, are now operating with the new system in mind, one question remains: is it all worth it?
Currently the Ohio voting period stretches for 35 days. Voters may vote early for any reason either in person at their county board of elections office or by mail until November 1. Additionally, the law has created the controversial so-called “golden week“, where citizens may register and cast absentee ballots at their board of elections on the same day. In 2009, the early voting law actually resulted in Barak Obama winning the state even though more votes were cast for John McCain on November 4, 2008, “Election Day”. However, it seems that, rather than dramatically increasing voter turnout, early voting is simply forcing a shift in old campaign strategies, due to timing issues, and making voting more convenient for those who otherwise would have voted anyway.
As an Ohioan, I took advantage of early voting throughout my undergraduate education, and I continue to do so as a graduate student in Virginia. Without a doubt, the Ohio early voting law has made it much easier for me to vote. Frankly, I am relived I do not have to jump through too many bureaucratic hoops to vote in my home state. Admittedly, I have even less hoops to jump through than most since my county of residence is one of those who pay the postage for ballot applications. Nevertheless, despite the convenience the early voting law has afforded me as a voter, I still find myself wondering what other effects it might be having in my state.
When it comes to the political parties in Ohio, as in many early voting states across the country, it is not clear if early voting actually benefits Republicans or Democrats, but it has affected how and when the money is spent, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, because neither party wants to lose a possible advantage. As a result, political campaigns are beginning to spend more money prior to the last weeks of October.
But what of the debates, the great hallmarks of the political process? According to debate organizers at the City Club of Cleveland, the days of spectacular debates in the closing days of campaigns may become a casualty of the early voting law. Frankly, I think it is far too early to tell if the City Club’s anxiety is well founded. As Daniel Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, told the Los Angeles Times “most of the people who are voting early — the vast majority, in fact — have already made up their minds.” That statement certainly fits my own early/absentee voting pattern over the last six years. And yes, for the record, I still watch televised debates even after I have voted.
So then, because of the early voting law, Ohio is now offering its citizens a more convenient procedure to cast their votes, political campaigns are getting more interesting before the waning weeks of October, and there is a real possibility that debates might actually occur sometime before the tail end of the campaign season. As an Ohioan, I definitely think it was worth it.
Douglas Haynes is a second-year student at William & Mary Law School.