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Voting early

Jul 11, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Sometimes necessity requires it, but there are good reasons to wait

The 2014 Wyoming primary election still is more than a month away, but you can vote already, noted this week with the start of the absentee ballot voting process for the coming primary.

Don't be in any rush.

Absentee balloting exists for a reason, of course, and it is a good one. Some voters know ahead of time that they will be out of town, out of state, even out of the country on Election Day, and they don't want to miss voting.

Some are incapacitated by illness, injury, infirmity or isolation out of their control to the extent that they cannot get to a polling place. They can vote absentee, and ought to.

But there also is a trend to use alternative methods -- absentee, by mail and more -- for other purposes, which don't always serve the best interests of the electoral process.

Some states allow voting by mail well ahead of the election in a different process from the traditional absentee method. Those votes can be counted and sometimes are reported ahead of election night. In turn, those early vote totals might be released to the public and can give one candidate or another a real advantage if he or she is reported to be leading in the early vote-by-mail process. This momentum has a very real potential to shape the outcome on the actual Election Day some weeks later.

Oddly, it can cut both ways. If your candidate is trailing badly in this reported early voting, on Election Day you might decide not to bother. Conversely, if your candidate appears to have a big lead already, you might feel the same way -- it's in the bag, so why go through the trouble.

With the absentee balloting period being lengthened in some states, with vote-by-mail gaining ground and with online voting being test driven in other places, the clear trend is away from Election Day voting. True, there is a lot to be said for convenience, but in an election there also is a lot to be said for taking time to evaluate candidates, consider issues and see how things play out.

Five or six weeks, which is the permissible voting period in some states, is a long time in the election cycle. Between the time early voters cast ballots in September and the time the election is decided in November, any number of things could change that might make you wish you could change your mind. Your candidate could get busted for drunk driving twice. The person you didn't vote for might commit an act of heroism or come up with a brilliant legislative solution to a nagging problem.

A candidate's illness could be revealed or economic circumstances could change to an extent that the position you thought you were taking with your vote turns out to be not so great after all.

The best case for early voting and voting through the mail is increased participation. In recent years a lot of things have been done that suppress voter turnout. In Wyoming and Fremont County, the wholesale move toward districting and away from at-large voting means that far fewer people vote in each election than before. Districting has reduced choice in many races, and if there's not much to choose from, consumers (meaning voters in this case) are less likely to go "shopping." Making it easier to vote is intended to counteract those effects, and it probably works.

Still, many people are just now beginning to pay attention to the local-interest issues and the candidates who are addressing them in the election campaign. To vote early just to get it over with probably isn't the best use of the precious franchise entrusted to us by our representative form of government.

Vote absentee if circumstances demand it, but if they don't, what's the hurry? Take some time to consider who is running, what they are saying, what is important to you, and how the candidates hold up under public scrutiny for a little while.

Election season is just about to heat up. Don't rush to cancel yourself out just when it's getting interesting.

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