How Early Voting Changes Elections

With more and more people choosing to vote early instead of on Election Day — it raises Some philosophical questions about how we vote. Do people who vote early have the same set of facts as those who vote on Election Day? And will the boost to early voting change the way politicians campaign for votes?

Here in Harris County, the number of people who voted early was nearly double the number who waited until Election Day.

Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein says from a philosophical standpoint, people are essentially voting in different elections.

“One of the other consequences has been that people who vote early tend to miss information that breaks late. An example, of course, is Hurricane Sandy.”

Sandy hit the East Coast after early voting had begun but well before Election Day. It’s the kind of event that could have an effect on how you feel about a candidate, especially in local races if you feel like a mayor or governor didn’t take the right action.

Nora Hahn lives in Jersey Village here in Houston and chose early voting for its convenience. She says a natural disaster wouldn’t be enough to change her mind about the presidential race, although she could imagine a scenario where a last-minute scandal could make her regret her vote.

“I think it’s possible that an October surprise or an event like Hurricane Sandy could change the way somebody feels. But I also believe that if you’ve really looked at the issues and the candidates, you pretty much have a good sense of where they stand before you go into that booth.”

West University resident Richard Beck also voted early and agrees that not much would change his mind so late in the game. He also views early voting as a convenience and thinks the idea of everyone turning out to vote nationally at the same time is a bit outdated.

“I think the idea of voting on one day is something that was easy and possible in the days when you had — years and years ago when you had an agrarian society and people could walk off the farm and go vote. Certainly in today’s world there’s no national coming together of kumbayah on the day of voting with the way things are divided.”

Interestingly, early voting tends to increase that divide by drawing more ideologues and straight party voters.

In fact, it hasn’t done what it was intended to do which is increase voter turnout. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says instead it has changed the way candidates campaign.

“The campaigns do all their issue-oriented things as if the first day of early voting is Election Day. Then after that, it’s a matter of turnout. Those of us who chose to wait til Election Day itself, got four, five, six robo-calls every day, telling us go vote, go vote, go vote. Because then it’s their job to make sure you go vote. And that becomes the whole strategy for both political parties.”

One thing that could increase turnout is the use of large voting centers on Election Day, not just during early voting. Galveston and Travis counties are among those using voting centers successfully.

 Emmett says he’s interested in bringing that concept to Harris County, but he adds there are a lot of people who are resistant to changes in the voting process.


This story was informed by sources in KUHF’s Public Insight Network ®. To become a news source for KUHF, go to www.kuhf.org/pin.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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