Everyone laments the decline in civic commitment in America. "Government is the word we use for the things we all do together," is a common refrain from liberal reformers in particular. Well, Election Day used to be one of the few things we did do together as a nation. It was a hugely important civic ritual. But the cult of convenience and a knee-jerk faith that voting at home will mean higher voter "turnout" (a somewhat misleading term under the circumstances) led us to downgrade Election Day and replace it with "Last Chance to Vote Day."
Has the convenience yielded a "better" electorate? It doesn't seem like it. Has early voting led to increased turnout? Only in very low-turnout local elections, according to John C. Fortier, who wrote a book on early voting. Why not? Because, says Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who studied early voting in his state, early voting is just "a convenience for people who likely would have voted anyway."
There are lots of reasons to have a single, solitary Election Day, if not on a Tuesday then perhaps a 24-hour period over a weekend. Among the best reasons: Deadlines focus the minds of voters and campaigns alike, and in-person, single-day voting cuts down on the potential for voter fraud.
But it seems to me the most important reason is that democracy's legitimacy rests in no small part on the idea that the people are making a collective decision once all the campaigning is done. Having all of the voters working with the same information and letting the candidates make their case to the whole country in the same time frame seems essential to that idea.
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