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Posted by on Mar 30, 2016 in 2016 Elections, 2016 Presidential Election, Law, Politics | 7 comments

1.4 million wasted votes raise questions about early voting

Early voting is widely viewed as an advance in ballot access that provides a fairer election process for those who have trouble getting to the polls on Election Day.

But the ups and downs of the 2016 primary season certainly raise questions about employing an early voting system during a volatile nominating process in which candidates abruptly drop out, leaving their supporters with a wasted vote.

As the issue of votes for dropouts gains prominence, the Wall Street Journal has crunched the numbers and found that a combined 1.4 million Republican votes were wasted since the primary/caucus season began in February.

In three states – Vermont, Missouri and Arkansas – the number of votes cast for a candidate who had dropped out by Election Day exceeded the margin of victory for the winner in those states.

Jeb Bush leads this dubious list with 159,000 meaningless votes cast for the former Florida governor. He is followed by Dr. Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio. But tens of thousands of “blackhole ballots,” as the WSJ labels them, also were collectively cast for Rand Paul, Chris Chistie, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Santorum.

Early voting is mostly responsible for this phenomenon as some states offer weeks of opportunity to cast a ballot before their Election Day. In Arizona, a month of early voting resulted in dropout Marco Rubio gaining a third-place finish last week even though he was no longer in the race.

In Mississippi, early returns showed Rubio in fourth place in a three-man race as Ben Carson was outpolling the Florida senator though the neurosurgeon had bowed out.

The question becomes: Why should we have weeks of early voting during a primary season in which candidates drop out at fairly unpredictable moments?

Sure, some voters cast their ballot on Election Day for an ex-candidate out of stubborn loyalty. But a voter who casts a ballot three or four weeks prior is taking a risk, and has no recourse if their ballot subsequently becomes immaterial.

In most states, the primary consists of a one-issue ballot on the presidency – and that is the case in all caucuses. In many cases, Election Day conveniently takes place on a Saturday. So, a slow process with long lines is not much of an issue (unless you live in Arizona). There is little need to offer many days of voting in advance in order to make the process run smoother on Election Day.

For those who have problems making it to the polls on a designated date, two or three days of early voting should suffice.

That’s obviously a better system than having 1.4 million ballots go down a black hole.

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  • Sal Monela

    “two or three days of early voting should suffice.”
    No – What about people who are out of the country on vacation or business? There are also voters who have surgery around election day and need to stay home to recover and others who have valid reasons that will keep them away from the polls.

  • Ravariel

    There’s an easier solution that just continuing to make voting more difficult:

    Just allow early voters (and I would argue all voters, but that’s a discussion for another time), to rank the candidates in order of preference. Their vote would go to the candidate highest on the list that was still in the race. That way, even in a field of 17, if your first fifteen choices have dropped out, your vote isn’t wasted, and you at least get to vote against the person you consider the worst possible choice.

    • Sal Monela

      Or you could go to a vote by mail election such as Washington and Oregon use. Very efficient, no poll lines and zero voter fraud. If you don’t want to use a stamp they have drop boxes all over town and you can vote in person at the Clerk’s Office if you wish. Don’t know why more states don’t use this.

  • The Ohioan

    Losing a vote would be hard to do if you follow what’s going on and hold your ballot until the latest date you can mail it – barring death or accident that removes a candidate a day or two before the election. In that case, in the GE, the law handles who becomes president. Overseas voters usually have some leeway as well.

    As far as Vermont is concerned, as long as the ballot gets to the town clerk’s office before the close of the office on the day before the election, or to the polling place before 7 p.m. on the day of the election, it will be counted.

    In the case of Bush, he suspended his campaign 10 days before the Vermont election date. Plenty of time to hold then mail the ballot.

    In the case of a sick or disabled voter in Vermont:

    “Vote at Home on Election Day
    If you are sick or have a disability, a ballot can be delivered to your home on Election Day. You may request an absentee ballot up until 5 p.m. on the day before the election. Two justices of the peace (of different parties when possible) will deliver a ballot to you, and then will bring the ballot back to the polling place so that it can be placed in the ballot box and counted (on Election Day or the 8 days preceding the election).”

    Obviously that wouldn’t work in NYC or other metropolises.

    Not sure township clerks would be able to handle in a timely fashion eliminating 15 of 17 candidates to find the one the voter picked as number 16, although it might work if limited to 2 or 3 successive choices, though the process of counting total votes would be much slower. I guess it wouldn’t matter so much in a primary and in a general there’s only one choice.

  • Bob Munck

    1.4 million wasted votes

    A very small extension of your logic would label any votes for a candidate who doesn’t win as “wasted.” They aren’t. Those votes for Rubio and Jeb (and O’Malley) before they dropped out serve to send a message. So do those for Carson, Rand Paul, Huckabee, and Santorum, but it’s a different message (“There’s something seriously wrong with me.“). Come to think of it, votes for Trump and Cruz also send that message.

    That said, Ravariel’s comment is a good one, especially because the preference-order ballot in the general election is a better way to vote.

    • JSpencer

      “but it’s a different message (“There’s something seriously wrong with me.“)”

      😉 …so true.

  • JSpencer

    While the general election is more likely to be a vote of pragmatism, the primary is an opportunity to vote one’s conscience, so I too would dispute the suggestion that such a vote is “meaningless”. And yes, a ranked voting system would be a huge improvement.

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