If you ask most candidates about early voting, which began in North Carolina on Thursday, those who believe they have your support they will strongly advise you to take advantage of early voting as soon as possible.
However, you might want to stop and think first.
The candidates and their rabid supporters working to get the early vote out don’t necessarily care about your participation in the political process. But they do care about getting your vote. We can’t really fault them for this. However, you might want to consider the transaction from your own point of view.
What are you gaining by voting early and what are you giving up? Despite the old joke about voting “early and often,” going to the polls ahead of time won’t make your vote count any more than it would count on Election Day. But you may be shortchanging your own mind, because you are giving up your right to change it. Your Oct. 19 self may be betraying the potentially better-informed person you would be closer to or on Nov. 6.
You may think your mind is made up and you already know exactly what you want to do. Maybe that’s true for president or governor. But not very many people know the candidates all the way down the list. You may be planning to vote a straight-party ticket, but several nonpartisan races for judgeships and Board of Education feature races in which people from the same party will face off. Maybe you plan to vote the way your church, your union or your professional organization recommended. In that case, what kind of groups do you belong to if you can’t be trusted to exercise your own conscience?
Why not give yourself a few more weeks to make the best decision? What’s the rush? When you think about it this way, those folks trying to get you to vote early are exactly like a sneaky used car salesman trying to get you to sign on the dotted line before you’ve had a chance to look under the hood — except that there’s no lemon law to protect early voters.
The last presidential debate hasn’t even taken place yet. Consider how often important contests have hinged on the last weeks. In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s final debate performances against President Carter changed the minds of many Americans. In 1948, early polls showed Thomas Dewey with such a big lead that many polls stopped checking during the last weeks. But the president went on the warpath, closed strong and Dewey did not defeat Truman. In 2000, late revelations about George W. Bush’s secret drunk-driving arrest stirred up opinions in the final days. Bush lost the popular vote, though he narrowly won a highly disputed electoral victory.
The last days of an election do matter. Early voting does make sense if you are going to be out of town on Election Day or even if you are concerned you might be too busy that day to make it to the polls. In that case, take advantage of early voting, but do it at the end, two weeks from now. Otherwise, consider joining with everyone else and do what Americans have done for more than 200 years: Educate yourself about the candidates, then go vote on Election Day to send the message that We the People will be calling the shots and no one can take away our right to vote as our individual consciences lead us.