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29 October 2010
Early voting as cultural artifact

In Oregon it’s the only way to vote. In 30 other states it’s an option. No more waiting in line on election day, no more rushed punching of ballots (or pulling of levers or pressing of buttons).

Also, no seeing the surprising variety and diversity of your neighbors waiting in line (probably one of the few times many Americans see a representative cross-section of their community in one place—along with jury duty), no single day of decision, and (in the case of mail voting) no requirement to see another citizen in person at all.

What does early voting make of the world?

1. What does early voting assume about the way the world is?

love this question! possible answers:
- people are busy, need more days than just one to vote
- our polling places/current structure may not be able to handle everyone voting on one day
- There’s no need for everyone to vote on one day. I wonder why was there previously? Is it a solidarity or unity kind of thing?

Jesse Phillips

Whether because of insufficient funding or inadequate performance, county election supervisors will never get their act together enough to guarantee short lines on Election Day itself.

—Doug Rand

Early voting SHOULD make it more possible of more people TO vote.  I know that flexibility of not having to take off work and to drive to a location that may not be convenient with the drive to work.  love it love it!  Wish more people really understood that it is available.  I know several people that think it is only for exceptions.

—Viki Perry

Well, I’m ashamed to say that even though I live NEXT DOOR to the polling place, I requested an absentee ballot this year.  I guess the way we see the world is as a place that keeps us so busy that we can’t spare 10 to 30 minutes our of our schedule to vote in person,  I know that in years past, voting time was the one time that my parents would run into old neighbors and catch up.  Now that my mother is much older and not getting out as much, she does absentee voting so she misses out on the chance to see those old neighbors.


I just thought of something.  It’s like early voting is like so many other things in our world.  This weekend (10/30) I went to the drug store and there was an aisle that already had Christmas merchandise on the shelves.  In fact, some retailers are doing black Friday earlier this year.  So, just as we’ve rushed Christmas and Halloween (candy for this holiday has been on the shelves for a good four weeks), so now we want everything early.  Give us early holidays so we can have more time to shop and give us early voting so we can get it out of the way.

2. What does early voting assume about the way the world should be?

it smells to me like:
- govt needs to be flexible and accomodate my busy schedule
- also resembles the growing “asynchronous” communication style we use in social networking more and more.

Jesse Phillips

It assumes that people’s time is important and they should not have to wait in long lines.

I think the assumption is that life should be the way we want it—everything should be to our convenience.


It affirms that we are still a nation that values the voice of its people.

—Tom Sturch
3. What does early voting make possible?

you are more likely to vote, less likely to miss the date, less likely to wait in line - I guess, therefore, less likely to engage that cross-section of society you mentioned

Jesse Phillips

It gives people an option to declare themselves finished with following the ever-more-pervasive pre-election news. It also, as I’ve noticed with my own unmarked mail-in ballot sitting on the shelf here, makes voting feel like some homework assignment I’ve been putting off: I ought to go ahead and get started, but I know I’m probably going to leave it till the day it’s due.

—Nate Barksdale

It does however make it possible for people who TRULY cannot make it on election day to exercise their civic duty.  The rest of us are just taking part in something that is merely convenient for us but not a necessity.

4. What does early voting make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

If you see less of the cross-section of society, then we become ever so slightly more insulated from each other. (although I’ve heard of long lines for early voters as well), more individualistic, more me-focused perhaps? making community, unity and nationalism a little less possible?

Jesse Phillips

It makes interacting with neighbors impossible or difficult unless we take advantage of other opportunities to do so.  It also makes it impossible to change your mind about a candidate or issue should you receive more information.


Agree with Jesse that more voters helps stem the trend toward Federalism.  The involved electorate is quantified on election day.  Each election day is a referendum on freedom.

—Tom Sturch
5. What new culture is created in response?

On the plus side (at least in Oregon): voting parties—that is, groups of friends getting together to hang out, talk through the lesser-known issues, and fill out their ballots. On the minus side: new ways for people to be suspicious of electoral shenanigans—witness the New York Times article from earlier this week on rumors circulating in the Jacksonville, FL African-American community, that early votes cast in their neighborhood won’t be counted.

—Nate Barksdale

There’s also something in the experience of time and of anticipation that has shifted as people vote early and then watch, in limbo, as the official day approaches. There’s a sense in which my participation is complete because I voted early and so the election, for me, is closed. But I’m in a liminal space as the election I voted in is not closed, and, moreover, still a future event for others (and thus, for me).


A culture of convenience where you never have to leave your home is created.  You don’t have to sacrifice anything like time.  It’s no longer seen as a civic duty; just another thing to do as long as it fits into our schedule and is convenient.


Faith that what you know and believe early in the election cycle will hold true late in the election cycle. Sometimes that takes alot of faith!

Adele Blakey

I didn’t know I could vote early.  My wife and I drove to the polling place (using up gasoline and poluting the air) in mid afternoon and were first in line…actually, the only ones in line.  We did not “engage in the diversity” of the community (which is 99% Republican and 99.5% Caucasian).

Does it diminish the dutifulness with which we performed our “civic duty” by not standing in a long line?

On the other hand, it does give some people the opportunity to engage other people on the Net, ask questions about the implications of early voting, and proclaim their views with political fervor.

The same five questions could have been asked about laundry at home instead of beating ones clothes on the rocks at the river.