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Hunter Wants Less Early Voting; Pandemic Shows Legislature Should Make Voting Easier

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.


  1. Donald Pay 2020-03-18 08:54

    Early voting is driven by top-of-the-ticket and major party money strategies, not concern about voters. The money-driven campaigns, of course, want to bank votes without regard to the fact that down ticket races rarely, if ever, start having candidate forums, advertising or door knocking electioneering until the last couple months before the election. If people vote before the real campaigns for down ticket races, let alone ballot measures, begins, this guarantees that those people are doing so based on nothing.

    Think of how fast new facts come into focus and newly developing events provide new perspectives. Sure, I think I could probably vote right now on who I want for President, but what about state legislature or on various ballot issues. You really can’t base your vote on facts if you vote before those campaigns really start.

    I can see a two week early voting period as a hat tip to customer service, but a 45-day period to vote is ridiculous. I think anyone who votes more than two weeks before an election ought to have the ballot ripped up. They aren’t doing their due diligence.

  2. John 2020-03-18 14:27

    If it ain’t broke . . .

  3. Debbo 2020-03-18 18:59

    “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.”

    I’d rather see both. Cut early voting in half, to 3 weeks, and make registering easy. Minnesota has the same early voting time lag and I think it’s too early. Don’s reasoning is sound, in addition to the suggestion that late changes in top of the ticket races are not rare.

  4. grudznick 2020-03-18 20:06

    That’s the rightest Mr. Pay has been in many years.

  5. Dave Baumeister 2020-03-18 20:24

    I wrote an editorial some years ago that said the same thing as Jon Hunter’s piece. There have be many elections when things have changed from the time early voting started and election day. That would be what Jon is referring to when he looks at how candidates have dropped out before certain primaries. I doubt if he was even considering how a pandemic figured into all of this. If people need to vote early, they should, but since the Daily Leader points out that “things change,” it might not always be in everyone’s best interest to do so – that is if people want to make sure their vote counts. Anyway, the point of an editorial is to give an opinion. People can agree or disagree with it, but the purpose of an editor writing a op-ed is to get a conversation going. Although they like the conversation to be in their newspaper, and not on somebody’s blog.

  6. Drey Samuelson 2020-03-19 04:11

    I’m with Secretary Barnett–if folks know who they want to vote for, then I see no problem in giving them a generous period of time in which to cast their ballot. But the two changes I would suggest should be made are 1) giving counties the right to implement a “vote at home” system (sometimes known as vote by mail) if they so choose; and 2) I would eliminate voter registration completely, as North Dakota did many years ago, with no ill-effects. It’s exponentially less-complicated and confusing than voter registration, and is a change that any state that chooses it would profit by the choice.

  7. Jake 2020-03-19 10:46

    Drey, how does North Dakota run elections with no registration? Are voters checked at polls by ID cards or?? It sounds so simple,,,..

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-19 11:30

    Donald, I keep defaulting to the idea that early voting doesn’t force anyone to vote early. I don’t think my vote has changed much in the last couple elections between the end of September and the beginning of November. In South Dakota, I know voting Democrat for everything promises an improvement in our way of life and a proper response to one-party corruption. Even on the ballot measures, I’m pretty sure where I stand on all of them after a few blog posts. I can’t think offhand of any new information that arose that changed my mind on the wisdom of capping payday loans and rejecting the payday lenders’ tricks, ending gerrymandering and enacting independent redistricting, protecting the minimum wage, blocking Marsy’s Law, and rejecting unconstitutional restrictions on out-of-state campaign donations.

    This year, I know I’ll vote for the Democratic nominees in every available race to save the country from Trumpism. I haven’t finalized my choice on the ballot measures, but I can tell you right now I’m leaning Yes purely on revenue and Libertarian grounds. But if there’s any hint that voting might get delayed by another epidemic or some monster week-long snowstorm, I will make up my mind, run right down to the courthouse, and cast my ballot as early as possible to make sure my vote counts. This year in particular, who we place in office to guide the body politic in recovering from coronavirus and Trumpism (two equally virulent and destructive diseases) is far more important than the decision we make on the three ballot measures.

  9. Donald Pay 2020-03-19 13:30

    Generally, I’ll vote for the Democratic candidate, because that’s where I am ideologically, but I have voted for Republicans. My vote is not automatic, and it comes only after due diligence. I study positions. I go to forums, though not as much recently. I generally know who I’m voting for on the top of the ticket weeks in advance, but I don’t completely decide the undercard until a day or two before the election. That is what most people do, by the way.

    Wisconsin is a purple state. When I moved here, the Republicans were sane, middle-of-the-road Tommy Thompson types, more or less like what South Dakota’s legislative Democrats are. It wasn’t much of a stretch for me to at least consider Republican candidates then. Since Scott Walker, that’s changed, but I still give the Republican candidates a shot at convincing me.

  10. Debbo 2020-03-19 15:01

    Tangentially related, Dr. Heather Cox Richardson has begun offering a weekly video on US History as her part of helping others get through this. Her first one was today and I caught the last half or so of it. She’s very engaging and I enjoyed the quick overview today, her first effort.

    I found it via FB, where I follow her. It’s not on YouTube yet, but will probably show up soon.

    At the end she described the Democratic Party as having moved slightly Left and the GOP way far Right. She waved her arm completely out of camera range Right.

    Dr. HCR may be on Instagram or other media. I don’t know. Anyway, based on the first one today, I recommend her weekly videos for inquiring minds.

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