If you subscribe to the theory that the validity of any election rises incrementally with each ballot cast, you will scream foul over a bill that was to be voted on in the state House today that would shorten the early voting period.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bert Jones of Rockingham, is the only member of the General Assembly who is not a Republican or a Democrat, but the debate will be partisan.
Critics of the bill see this as a Republican plot to suppress votes, primarily from blacks, who aren’t GOP-friendly. And theirs is a strong point.
Proponents say that the 18-day period to vote is simply too long, especially when the state is cutting back in all areas, most notably education, in an effort to erase a multi-billion-dollar deficit. Reducing the voting period from 18 to 11 days would save money, and every little bit helps.
The effect of early voting has been much more dramatic than envisioned when legislation allowing it was approved.
During the 2008 presidential election, 54 percent of North Carolina’s electorate — 2.4 million voters — cast ballots during early voting; 52 percent of those were cast by blacks, helping send now President Obama to a 300,000-vote win in the state, the first time North Carolina has gone Democrat since it favored Jimmy Carter in 1976.
In Robeson County, a couple of races in recent years have pretty much been determined through early voting, including the election of a town board member who didn’t even appear on the ballot. Increasingly, Election Day voting in this county, where a couple of hundred votes can win election, is becoming a moot exercise.
Critics are correct when they complain that early voting is much easier to manipulate as it provides an additional 17 days beyond Election Day to haul voters who know exactly who they are supposed to support. That plays heavily into the hands of the candidate with the deepest pockets. Critics say 11 days is plenty, pointing out that less than a third of the votes cast in 2008 during the General Election were done so during the first week of early voting.
If your measure of an election’s value is number of votes cast, there is no denying the utility of early voting. But it will never be explained satisfactorily to us how an 11-day window for voting isn’t enough time to find for anyone who is determined to cast a ballot. There is also the contradiction that for someone who votes on Election Day, there is a deadline to register that is firm, but early voting allows for registration and voting to occur on the same day.
There is no high ground here. Republicans and Democrats will both be steered by partisan interest, which means the legislation will likely end up on Gov. Bev Perdue’s desk, where it will die a sudden death.