Living in Society

Early Voting in Big Grove

Newport Precinct Polling Place, Nov. 3, 2010.

The idea of banking early votes among infrequent voters rose to prominence after the turn of the century.

I recall the tactic while working on the first Obama general election campaign. It served a useful purpose that combined data analysis, field organizing and canvassing to focus on maximizing voter turnout among potential Obama voters. The targets were not predictable voters — the ones who showed up reliably for every election — but registered voters whose voting record indicated a propensity to skip elections. The idea was to leave nothing to chance, get their votes cast for preferred candidates, and once banked move on to other campaign work. Both Democrats and Republicans employ this tactic today.

Individuals use early voting in a number of ways. For me it was a way to participate when my work schedule had me out of town on election day. I also voted early for convenience. For example, when I went to the county seat to pay my property tax bill, I stopped at the auditor’s office to cast my vote. Recent discussions about the shortened early voting period (from 40 to 29 days) have little to do with people like me. It is related to a curtailment of opportunities for campaigns to bank early votes — less time equals a more compressed campaign schedule.

In a primary election like the current one, there are so many moving parts early voting seems less important. Something game-changing could and did happen after the beginning of early voting and before the election. This week’s events are a case in point.

On Wednesday, May 23, the Des Moines Register broke a story that three women accused gubernatorial candidate Nate Boulton of sexual misconduct. By Thursday, Boulton suspended his campaign and Iowa Senate Minority Leader Janet Peterson called for his resignation from the state senate. According to Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate some 13,000 Democrats have already cast early ballots and there is no process to re-do those votes according to Iowa Code. Boulton voters who haven’t cast their ballots are likely to pick one of the remaining five candidates in reaction to the news.

While rumors about sexual misconduct were circulating around Boulton prior to this week, those whispers did not make their way into mainstream political discussion in Big Grove. It caught me by surprise:

Voters rarely base decisions on having “all the information” about a candidate. I recall the first time our daughter attended the Iowa caucus in 2004. She had not decided for whom to caucus when we arrived at the Middle School. She carried a copy of the Solon Economist with a candidate comparison to read at the event. After years of political canvassing, I believe more voters are like our daughter than not. Decisions are made late in the election cycle and I submit, even later in a primary. Why vote early if one doesn’t have enough information?

Well organized campaigns can be expected to use every aspect of voting law to maximize turnout for their candidates. There is a need for early voting to make elections accessible to more people but I’m not sure of what tactic it serves in the June 5 primary.

Here in Big Grove, as elsewhere in Iowa, we play according to rules established by others and use the tools of the trade to work on campaigns. If that means waiting until election day to vote, we will.