Down with early voting

Walt McLeod’s nephew the gubernatorial candidate took aim at populist sentiment among Democrats with this release a few moments ago:

McLeod Pushes Election Reform:

Vows to Fight for Early Voting in SC

Today, Democratic candidate for Governor Mullins McLeod pushed to reform our election laws by making it easier for South Carolinians to exercise their fundamental right to vote.  McLeod vowed to fight for early voting in South Carolina and pledged to veto any legislation that would reduce a voter’s access to early or absentee voting.

McLeod’s statement came after published reports revealed that the legislature’s attempts to pass early voting are not only failing, but that Republicans have passed legislation in the House that would prevent most in-person absentee voting.

“The current crop of career politicians in Columbia aren’t getting the job done,” McLeod said. “When I’m Governor we will have early voting in South Carolina just like so many states do now. And if the legislative Republicans keep trying to make it difficult for our citizens to vote, they’ll feel the full power of the Governor’s office come down on them. Just like people who live in North Carolina and Georgia, South Carolinians deserve the ability to vote and make their voice heard in an efficient and convenient way that fits in with their busy schedules,” McLeod added.

McLeod said that the entire debate on this issue demonstrates the culture of misplaced priorities that keep South Carolina near the bottom. “We should have early voting, that’s a no brainer. There shouldn’t even be a debate. Instead of fighting over this, we need to be working to create jobs and improve our schools. That’s what people expect from their elected officials. Once again career politicians in Columbia have failed us.”


Sorry, Mullins, but I still don’t hold with it. To avoid retyping what I said before, here’s an excerpt from one of my last columns at The State (the one in which I dismissed both sides on the photo ID debate):

While I’m at it, I might as well abuse a related idea: early voting.

We’ve had a number of debates about that here on the editorial board, and I’ve been told that my reasons for opposing early voting are vague and sentimental. Perhaps they are, but I cling to them nonetheless.

While Democrats and Republicans have their ideological reasons to fight over this idea, too, it’s a communitarian thing for me. I actually get all warm and fuzzy, a la Frank Capra, about the fact that on Election Day, my neighbors and I — sometimes folks I haven’t seen in years — take time out from our daily routine and get together and stand in line (actually allowing ourselves to be, gasp, inconvenienced) and act as citizens in a community to make important decisions.

I’ve written columns celebrating that very experience, such as one in 1998 that quoted a recent naturalized citizen proudly standing in line at my polling place, who said, “On my way here this morning, I felt the solemnity of the occasion.”

I believe in relating to my country, my state, my community as a citizen, not as a consumer. That calls for an entirely different sort of interaction. If you relate to public life as a consumer, well then by all means do it at your precious convenience. Mail or phone or text it in — what’s the difference? It’s all about you and your prerogatives, right? You as a consumer.

Something different is required of a citizen, and that requirement is best satisfied by everyone getting out and voting on Election Day.

With or without photo IDs.

Now I’m sure young Mr. McLeod is perfectly serious and sincere in advocating early voting. Set aside the canned, trite, generic populist language that seems to plague his releases (“The current crop of career politicians in Columbia;” yadda-yadda — all that’s missing is a reference to “good ol’ boys”). He means it, as do most Democrats.

I had a conversation about this with Capt. James Smith at a fund-raiser that Doug Jennings and Joel Lourie had for him at the erstwhile Townhouse last week, the same day that his op-ed on the subject ran in The State.

I explained my communitarian opposition to the idea, and he said what about older folks who have trouble waiting in line? I said they can vote early now; my parents always do. He said they won’t be able to do so in the future, with the Republicans now limiting the absentee voting that already occurs. And I said “Aw, the Republicans just did that because you provoked ’em.” And he laughed. Then he acknowledged I was probably right that what the GOP members had done probably would not stand — where would Republicans be with all the old white people mad at them? But in the meantime, he seemed resolved to take what advantage he could from their tactical error. (Finally, I told James that at least the remaining editors on the editorial board of The State saw things his way — I was the holdout on early voting.)

Anyway, I hear what James and Mullins and the rest are saying, but I am unpersuaded. They point to the long lines back in November, and I say so what? I celebrate the long lines as signs of a vigorous representative democracy. I ran across this chart the other day (let me know if you have better ones) that show that in the ’08 election, S.C. went from 50th to 41st in voter turnout, with a 9.8 percent increase over 2004. This is the Obama effect that Democrats celebrate, and they want to present it as a symptom of something that needs fixing? Sorry, that doesn’t add up for me. If participation were on a downward slide, they might have an argument. As things stand, they don’t.

14 thoughts on “Down with early voting

  1. Birch Barlow

    Your sentimental attachment to traditional Election Day voting is nice. Having an entire community come out on the same day and let their collective voice be heard is a nice thought.

    But of course, policy should be decided by reason. It should not be decided by emotion or tradition. Bottom line, early voting would increase voter turnout. It is unreasonable to think that every voter can get the time off to vote on the same day. Sure some absentee voters vote out of convenience — possibly even most do so. But that’s no reason to punish those who vote absentee out of necessity.

    You celebrate the long lines. But America needs to be hanging its head because of voter turnout. If there’s an easy solution to increasing turnout, then it needs to be done. You may not feel as though you’ve earned that fuzzy feeling if lines were shorter. But sacrifice soley in the name of sacrifice is not noble, it’s stupid. Besides, I would argue that the truer sense of communitarian citizenship is earned throughout the year by staying informed on the issues, voicing your opinion to your elected leaders, and all discussion and debate within your community. Voting is already the easy part.

    I would also like to know why Election Day is not a federal holiday. Martin Luther King Day, Washington’s Birthday, Labor Day and Columbus Day are federal holidays, but not Election Day? America can be a stupid place at times.

  2. doug_ross

    Good idea, Birch – let’s swap Columbus Day for Election Day.

    The objective of an election is about the votes not about the process.

    I’ve participated in many elections. I don’t get the sense that there are very many people who share Brad’s idealism.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Doug, do you EVER agree with anything I say?

    Birch, there’s the additional problem that I have with the notion that we need to make it easier to vote to increase turnout — like that’s automatically a GOOD thing, which I doubt.

    As you point out, voting is already “the easy part” of citizenship. So easy, that look at how lightly too many people take it. Maybe you aren’t appalled at the facile, thoughtless answers that some people give for why they vote as they do, but I often am. And those are the people who VOTE. And yet you want to make it easier, with the stated purpose of bringing out the people who DON’T CARE ENOUGH NOW to vote?

    That just doesn’t seem wise to me. And in fact, while people say I’m the one who’s all fuzzy and sentimental, I have to say that the assumption that MORE voting is BETTER voting is taking naive democratic sentimentality to an extreme. And I don’t want to go there. It’s easy enough now.

    Now watch this — some Democrat (or several) is going to accuse me, erroneously, of being some kind of doctrinaire Republican or something. And yet, it puzzles me that Democrats want more people who are too apathetic to vote now out there choosing our leaders. Isn’t it axiomatic among Democrats that far too many thoughtless people are easily herded and manipulated by the Republicans, to the point of voting contrary to their economic interests? So you want MORE people voting who don’t care enough to make the effort now? How does that add up?

    Yes, I know that lots of Democrats make the assumption that less educated, less interested, less involved people who don’t care enough to vote now are more likely to vote Democratic, but if I were a Democrat, I’d be sort of embarrassed to act on that assumption.

    And yeah, I know that the Republicans don’t want this because they’re afraid that those people WILL vote Democratic, and they don’t want such people voting, which in many cases arises from some pretty ugly assumptions and attitudes in GOP hearts. All of which makes the arguments over this pretty unappetizing to me.

    What I’ve noticed is that under the present system, sometimes we elect Democrats and sometimes Republicans (and sometimes even, once in a blue moon, an independent), and sometimes people have good reasons for voting those ways and sometimes they don’t. But I just don’t see any way that the quality of the decisions gets BETTER if it’s made easier, more convenient, to vote.

  4. Harry Harris

    Brad, I, too, have fond memories of voting, helping with voter registration and voter access, and losing more often than not. You and I have likely never experienced the mindset of the intimidated, the economically powerless, the uninvited. We are persistent and not easily discouraged. There are lots of our fellow citizens who are easily discouraged from voting for a number of reasons outside your experience. I know a significant number of them. I want strong, consistent invitations offered and assistance where needed. I like the voting weekend idea, which breaks away from onr agrarian-based tradition of one Tuesday, but am a strong supporter of exploring multiple options.

  5. Birch Barlow


    First, my desire for making the voting process easier is not to bring out those who “don’t care enough to vote now,” but to bring out those who want to vote but cannot due to life’s priorities (single parents, workers who can’t get time off, etc.). Now I admit I don’t know to what extent these obstacles are really preventing these people from voting (if this group even exists at all in significant numbers).

    You make a very valid point that increasing voter turnout is not good if we are just bringing the “thoughtless” into the process. And the loosened voting schedule I would like to see would certainly have this negative effect.

    Two points here. First, if one voter who couldn’t vote before, but had desired to, gets that chance, but a few other voters who don’t really care vote alongside him, then I will still be happy with that outcome despite the harm it will do to our democracy. I guess I’m just idealist in that way, for better or worse.

    Second, isn’t the fact that anyone can vote no matter how much they actually care or how much they have attempted to educate themselves about the candidates a criticism of democracy in general? Voter ignorance upsets me too. I wish they would educate themselves, but if not then stay away from the voting booth. But I certainly don’t think we should make it harder on others just to discourage the ignorant.

    But in the end, I do agree with you, Brad, to a degree. I don’t think I’d like to see voting become so easy that just anyone would do it. In other words, I wouldn’t want people to just be able to sit on their ass at their personal computer and vote right at the last minute on a whim knowing little about any candidate. I think that would cheapen the process. But I do not think that allowing one to get to his voting registration office before Tuesday to place an absentee vote is unreasonable. Some sacrifice, though less than waiting in a two hour line, is still required.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Good discussion. Thanks, Birch. Did you see what happened there, folks? Birch acknowledged some areas of agreement, but also clearly and respectfully explained where he DISagreed, then proposed a compromise position that both of us might be able to live with.

    It’s called the deliberative process. It’s something we see too seldom in the Blogoshere, and something that our polarized parties render almost impossible in our legislative bodies.

    But you just saw it here.

    Thanks again, Birch.

  7. Mike Toreno

    Brad, the reason your career was a failure is that not just that you did a poor job (although you did), it was that you failed to adjust to the new reality. You were able to keep a job because you had a monopoly. Your job, when you had a job, wasn’t to provide readers with insight, it was to use a monopoly position to promote an approved storyline.

    You had a job for which there were basically no standards for quality or ingetrity, and you failed at it. Blogging is much, much tougher. You failed as a journalist, you can’t hope to do the same things which weren’t even good enough for a newspaper and hope to succeed as a blogger. Anyone can blog, but what gains readers is providing people with something of value.

    You failed at the State because you didn’t understand that no one cares about your opinion about anything. What’s important isn’t your opinion, it’s whatever insight you can provide, and you don’t provide any insight here. What makes a blogger successful is the insight he or she provides into matters of general interest. No one cares about your own personal conceits. No one cares about your feelings about voting. People care about policies about voting, and about everything else, as those policies relate to their lives.

    This post fails because it fails to acknowledge and address the central issue behind the controversies over voting that have prevailed over the last decade, which is that Republicans have, as a matter of strategy, worked to limit participation in voting by Democratic constituencies, by presenting obstacles to voters. The primary reason people (particularly many older white South Carolinians) favor obstacles to voting is that they can be unevenly applied, so that disfavored groups can have obstacles placed in their paths, while the way can be cleared for favored groups.

    One of the most important reasons for early voting is that by voting early, voters are more easily able to challenge obstruction of their right to vote. In the last election, numerous voters were improperly challenged, or faced attempts at exclusion due to records errors, and were able to overcome the attempts at exclusion and vote because they had time. Early voting greatly diminishes the opportunity for improper obstruction by deconcentrating the voting process, so that obstructionists are unable to focus their improper actions on a single day.

    Providing citizens with convenient mechanisms to vote and depriving obstructionists of the power to disrupt voting is much more important than indulging the claimed communitarian impulses of a failed journalist and failing blogger.

  8. Bart

    Mike, what are the obstructionist obstacles you are referring to? Registration requirements? Voting on Tuesday? Voter ID? What?

    For once, it would be a great change of pace if the accusers were able to pinpoint some exact details with specific examples and legitimate testimony of how those damn Republicans are preventing people from voting. Do you personally know of anyone who was stopped from voting because of their color? I don’t mean the typical accusations based on nothing but “suspicions” but hard evidence. If you can name one, then I will be one of the first in line to demand prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. I will even contribute to a legal fund.

    I am one of the “older” white South Carolinians and I challenge you to put your proof where your mouth is.

    I vote in a district where the racial balance is definitely not in favor of “whites” and so far, if anything, those manning the polls bend over backwards to accomodate ALL voters.

    Also, any voter with a legitimate reason can vote early if they want. All it takes is a trip to the registrars office, ask for a ballot, give a legitimate reason and you can vote early. Now, is this the intimidation and “obstructionist” behavior you are talking about? Because of a medical condition, my wife cannot stand for long periods. She and I voted early last election and the registrar asked why, she told them and they let us vote early. The room was full of single mothers, mothers with children, older citizens, handicapped, and a variety of others. When we talked to the people in the office, they told us that hundreds voted there each election cycle.

    If you want to vote, most people can make arrangements to do so. In our area, if you need a ride to the registrars office to register and a ride to the polls, both are available by simply asking. That seems to be the case across the state. So far, I haven’t been made aware of gangs of thugs milling around the polls preventing people from voting.

    About the only changes I think would make sense is to change the process to a weekend and allow voting over a two day period or make election day a national holiday. Otherwise, we do need some safeguards against voter fraud and abuse of the system. Dragging bums, drunks, and mentally challenged off the streets, using same day registration, and telling them who to vote for is not democracy in action.

  9. Mike Toreno

    Bart, there are numerous examples of how Republicans have suppressed and attempted to suppress voting. Remember, the fact that you’re ignorant about something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Although, your ignorance in the face of the massive reporting on the subject suggests that you’re ignorant because you don’t want to know.

    For example, Bradley Schlozman insisted on filing a lawsuit accusing Missouri’s secretary of state of failing to purge supposedly ineligible voters from the rolls. Todd Graves was forced out in March for balking at filing the suit, which was filed after he was forced out but was dismissed by a federal judge in 2007. You may be ignorant of the fact that many of the improper firings of U.S. attorneys carried out by the Bush administration came about because those attorneys refused to file bogus voter fraud cases and otherwise abuse their offices in the cause of voter suppression. A large part of the Justice Department was engaged in efforts at voter suppression. You may be ignorant of, or willfully blind to, this fact, but it is a fact.

    Your reference to “dragging bums, drunks, and mentally challenged off the streets” tells us everything about you that we need to know. “Bums, drunks, and mentally challenged” is code for “people that I would exclude from voting”. But no one cares whether you think someone is worthy to vote, what’s important is, are they entitled to vote under the law. By entertaining the idea that some groups are less worthy than others, and for that reason we should put up obstacles to voting, you open up the administration of voting to suppression of disfavored groups while easing the voting of favored groups. It doesn’t matter why people vote a particular way. Huge numbers of people voted against Barack Obama because of racism, but no one suggests they should be prevented from voting. Second-guessing other people’s reasons for voting is nothing but an excuse for suppressing the votes of groups you don’t like.

  10. Harry Harris

    Mike, I would suggest that the tone of your posts and some of the language you use detracts from the validity of your points, most of which have merit. This blog is intended to promote some disscussion about issues, not as a venue for venting, ranting, or name-calling. I heartily agree that there has been both subtle and blatant use of voter intimidation, voter exclusion, and voter discouragement tactics in SC and across the country – based on 40 plus years of on-and-off involvement with voting issues. I have witnessed confrontations at the polls, talked with workers discouraged by their bosses from voting, and seen disguised mailings designed to intimidate or confuse voters. Anybody with some political savvy knows that Republican candidates usually benefit from low turnout, and that is one reason negative campaigning is such a usful Dent/Atwater/Rovian tool. Things are beginning to change, and I’ll rejoice if those of us who want a more inclusive democracy are not baited into the kind of bitter mudfest that benefits the constituencies that can’t win a debate on the merits.

  11. Bart

    In 2006, a report was issued on Election Crimes. A synopsis of the report is that although there are always reports of intimidation and election fraud, successful proof and prosecution are negligible and seldom if ever proven to be true. There are always reports about intimidation from BOTH sides of the political spectrum with most reports or complaints being about Republicans.

    If you are interested, a copy can be found at the following site. I would highly recommend you read it thoroughly. That is if you are interested in a few findings that don’t necessarily support the general conception of what liberals, Democrats, and the media report as systemic and epidemic examples of voter fraud and intimidation by Republicans. “…”

    The report further states that voter intimidation is what each individual’s concept is or may be. Actual, factual proof is difficult to obtain and result in a conviction in a court of law.

    Maybe it is also time to remind our very moralistic Democrat friends that the first example of modern dirty campaigning was waged by Democrats in the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater presidential contest. Democrats introduced the most underhanded and distasteful campaign video of all time when they had a little blond girl in the forefront and a mushroom cloud in the background, depicting Goldwater as a warmonger and making no doubt about the message that he would bring the world into a nuclear war. It only ran a few times but the damage was devastating and Goldwater was buried at the polls. However, when Republicans returned the favor, Democrats howled foul at the top of their lungs, crying dirty campaign tactics. This has been the mantle worn by long suffering Democrats ever since even though Clinton introduced perhaps one of the worst practitioners ever, James Carville. So, stay off the high road, you don’t belong there any more than Republicans do.

    Mike, I will make this one point very clear to you. I did not use “code words”. I said EXACTLY what I meant to say about “hauling bums, drunks, and mentally challenged” off the streets, registering them and having them vote the same day. I stand by my words and will continue to do so. I DON’T WANT THEM VOTING!! Clear enough?

    If you were to stop for a moment and consider just how wrong this is and evaluate the situation, you may change your mind but I doubt it. I was not addressing people of color, gender, Hispanics, sexual orientation, or anyone else Democrats use as pawns who want to cast a vote. I am addressing those who do not know what is going on, could care less, sell their vote for a drink or a meal, or are not competent enough to understand who or what they are voting for. They may have the right to vote but that does not imply they should. When these people are rounded up and used by any political party, it cheapens the voting process and diminishes a precious right. To me, this is the ultimate in voter fraud and intimidation, not some old white dude giving a black man hard looks. If an old white dude giving a black man a hard look is intimidation, I wouldn’t like to know what the real thing is.

    For the past several elections, I listened intently to the reasons some people I talked to gave for casting their vote one way or the other. More often that I care to recall, the reasons were so idiotic they were scary. They had no clue about issues, candidates, or how the election could impact their lives other than what they could get out of it. To paraphrase what Harry said about constituencies that can’t win a debateon the merits goes exactly to the heart of the matter. Ever try to debate the merits of an election with a “bum, drunk, or mentally challenged” individual?

    Several bills have been introduced but never made it out of committee for whatever reasons. In 2007, Senator Barack Obama introduced a bill to stop voter intimidation but it never got to the floor even with a Democrat majority in both houses. Why? Another bill was introduced but Democrats refused to add to the intimidation language, provisions to stop voter fraud. Why?

    Bill Clinton fired the entire U.S. attorney’s when he took office. A political move maybe? No, it is only politics or some nefarious reason when Bush did it.

    Harry, I have been involved with the voting process just as long as you have and have witnessed what could be considered voter intimidation or possible fraud and not by Republicans but Democrats.

    I have driven voters from both sides to the polls, black and white. I respect the process and if a person is guilty of actual intimidation or fraud, I support prosecution as I said. So far, most of what we hear about is innuendo, rumor, unsubstantiated accusations, unproven allegations, and what one person considers intimidation to be over another.

    Harry, Mike has always ranted, making wild accusations. I only responded this time to his usual leftist histrionics because I feel so strong about respecting the right to vote and also preventing the abuse of it by BOTH sides. It is too bad that Democrats feel the only ones who employ intimidation tactics are Republicans. Maybe they should try to explain that to the Republicans who were verbally assaulted in Broward County, Florida in the 2004 election. Maybe they should try to explain it to the Republican candidates who had their headquarters trashed and the tires on a fleet of vehicles slashed.

    It goes both ways.

  12. Mike Toreno

    Bart, once again you demonstrate that the pretended concern about “election fraud” is phony, and what is really at issue is your desire to keep the “wrong sort of people” from voting. In two posts, you have not cited any instances of election fraud – that is, an instance of a ballot cast by an ineligible voter, or the casting of multiple ballots by a single voter. That’s election fraud. A campaign commercial you don’t like isn’t election fraud. Voting by the “wrong” people isn’t election fraud. Election fraud is the casting of a vote by an ineligible voter, or the casting of multiple votes by the same voter, or the acceptance of a vote submitted outside of the prescribed time and place. That’s what election fraud is. You are pretending to be concerned about election fraud because you want to exclude the “wrong” sort of people from voting.

    Throughout your post, you demonstrate your lack of integrity. You equate Bill Clinton’s routine firing of the US attorneys at the beginning of his term with George Bush’s firing of US attorneys for refusing to pursue groundless cases, with the purpose of preventing voting by eligible citizens. You are pretending that two very different things are the same. I’ll repeat what I said above:

    **For example, Bradley Schlozman insisted on filing a lawsuit accusing Missouri’s secretary of state of failing to purge supposedly ineligible voters from the rolls. Todd Graves was forced out in March for balking at filing the suit, which was filed after he was forced out but was dismissed by a federal judge in 2007.**

    Todd Graves wasn’t fired during a routine change of personnel. He was fired for failing to bring a baseless action directed at removing voters from the rolls.

    The fact that you can’t support your argument without lying emphasizes the emptiness of your argument.

  13. Bart

    Mike, call me a liar all you want. That seems to be the limit of your intellectual ability to respond and goes directly to your lack of character. I made it clear that I said exactly what I meant.

    For neophytes like you, you have no idea of how involved I have been in working for and fighting for voter registration and involvement. When John Denver hosted the first national television event working to get young people to register to vote, I was on the front lines. Voting has always been a right and privilidge but not one to be abused either. I don’t think you have the ability to see that point. Which was my point.

    I seriously doubt you have ever done anything to be a positive influence except post rants and attacks against those you disagree with and use name calling as the equivalent of an intelligent discussion. YOU are exactly the reason there will never be a reasonable discourse about the differences between us. I think the person with no integrity is you, not me. You were called out for your language and offensive attacks and you didn’t like it.

    By the way, when you cite facts, be honest and finish it with the truth. In the Schlozman case, after the federal judge dismissed the case in 2007, it was appealed to the U.S. District Court and the federal judge’s decision was overturned. It was in March, 2009, Holder’s DOJ asked a judge to dismiss the case. To set the record straight and get the facts correct, Graves DID sign the lawsuit along with another attorney from his office, Schlozman, and Wan J. Kim. The suit was NOT filed after Graves was forced out but before.

    Now, who is the liar here? You or me? This was a bogus example from the beginning and you knew it. Do you think I don’t know or understand the issues? Like I said, when dealing with lightweights who only know how to call names and attack, attack, attack, what else can we expect from you?

    And my example of Clinton firing ALL of the US Attorneys when he took office does not demonstrate a lack of integrity but an understanding of how EACH president uses US Attorneys as a means to his or her ends in a political environment. They serve at the president’s pleasure and are subject to dismissal at any time for any reason. Grow up!

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