Madison media magnate Jon Hunter recycled a dumb idea in an editorial earlier this month: reducing early voting. On Super Tuesday, Hunter fretted that primary voters who cast ballots early for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar before those two democrats dropped out before the sudden Biden juggernaut “essentially wasted their vote.” Hunter dismisses ranked choice voting as “clearly impractical” (and when a debater says “clearly,” that’s a good sign he doesn’t have an argument to back it up, and Hunter doesn’t, saying simply, “We don’t think it would work at all,” even though New York City is going to test his assertion next year) and says we need to shorten our early-voting period from six weeks to two:
But we believe the voting window is too wide: In South Dakota, voters can vote as early as 46 days before an election. For this year’s presidential election, a South Dakota voter could cast a ballot as early as September 18. A lot of things could happen in the last six and a half weeks. There may be a particular speech, debate or event that causes a voter to think differently about a candidate.
…We believe in early voting, but just not so early. A more reasonable time frame — like two weeks — should be able to accommodate virtually everyone. Maybe add a provision that a person could vote a little earlier than that with a reason, like traveling for that entire period. That’s the way all absentee voting used to be handled, and could be used again.
We think legislators in future years should consider[…] making changes to South Dakota early voting protocols to improve the process [Jon Hunter, “Making a Case to Shorten Early Voting,” Madison Daily Leader, 2020.03.03].
Legislators in 2019 did consider shortening early voting on similar assertions. Secretary of State Steve Barnett effectively shot down those paternalistic assertions:
Prime sponsor and Majority Leader Lee Qualm (R-21/Platte) claimed that we need to restrict early voting because voters need more information. Secretary Barnett pointed out the obvious logical flaw in Qualm’s contention:
“If a citizen is concerned about learning new information at a later date, they’re free to wait to cast their vote up until election day,” Barnett said [Bob Mercer, “S.D. Senate Panel Gives No Quarter on Early Voting,” KELO-TV, 2019.02.27].
Allowing 46 days of early voting denies no one information that they want. Shortening that early-voting period denies everyone options for voting [CA Heidelberger, “Secretary Barnett Kills HB 1187: Early Voting Doesn’t Deny Anyone Information,” Dakota Free Press, 2019.02.28].
Turnout in yesterday’s primaries makes an argument opposite to Hunter’s. Despite the coronavirus emergency, Florida and Arizona saw more voter turnout for yesterday’s primary than for their 2016 primaries thanks to early voting. Florida also saw strong turnout thanks to voting by mail. Early voting and voting by mail give voters more leisurely, sunny days to cast their ballots, just in case election day turns rainy or snowy or pandemicky or whatever else might intervene in making our voices heard.
Rather than restricting the times and places where people can vote, we should be looking seriously at giving people more flexibility in registering and voting. The Legislature should revive House Bill 1050 to allow online voter registration (why again did you kill that proposal, Senator Novstrup, Senator Greenfield, Senator Ewing?). It should also resurrect 2018 House Bill 1237 to implement voting by mail and thus give voters more chance to vote even under potential pandemic restrictions.