On Sunday, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight called out how bogus it is that we vote on a Tuesday, "just so farmers who have been dead for more than a century won't have an excuse to miss church." And with nightmarish lines at polling places becoming a regular feature of election day news coverage, it's clear that something needs to be done about it — and many Americans already are making changes. In states that offer it, early voting has become an increasingly popular option. It's time for us to recognize that there's no legal, ethical or moral reason to require everyone vote on the same day: early voting should be a right nationwide, not just for people lucky to live in states that offer it.
Before I go on, it's important to underscore that early voting is not a panacea for America's many voting woes. Studies suggest that it has a minimal effect on voter turnout, with some studies suggesting early voting only increases turnout by 2 to 4 percent. Others even suggest that early voting might actually slightly reduce turnout (because, as researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison noted, early voting "depresses turnout by diffusing attention to the election and reducing the importance of election-day mobilization.")
Still, considering that offering early voting options is a relatively simple change and that rectifying for the above-mentioned election-day mobilization is feasible, I believe the country should embrace early voting.
It should be noted that all states have absentee voting in some form. The crucial difference is that 13 states still require an excuse of one form or another, for instance, a student who is away at college, or someone who is too ill to make it to the polling location. The easiest fix to this problem would be to change those laws to remove the excuse requirement, essentially making them "no-excuse" mail-in ballots, so that anyone could request an absentee ballot for any reason.
Here's what policy makers often forget — or at least don't properly account for, in my mind: of the biggest challenges when it comes to voting is the variation in ballots, policies, and even propositions and initiatives from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The studies that found that early voting might depress voter turnout surmised that it's possible that early voting distracts from Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts geared towards election day itself. If, culturally, the United States moved towards universal early voting, then GOTV could also be re-calibrated nationally to push early voting throughout the country.
There are plenty of other issues in our voting system that need to be addressed, and often the numerous jurisdictions are excellent laboratories for discovering ways to fix those problems. But when there's a voting privilege only available to some Americans based solely on where they live, we should take the easy step of extending it to everyone.
Image: Bustle/Allison Gore