Montana Republican’s Victory Is More Proof That Early Voting Is Flawed
Montana’s special election to fill their at-large congressional seat vacancy has been one for the history books. Body slamming a journalist on Election Eve will go down as the dumbest political move of the year. Nonetheless, the boneheaded aggression didn’t cost Republican Greg Gianforte victory. He still won the seat by six points and managed to clinch more than 50 percent of the vote. Early voting allowed tens of thousands of voters to cast ballots before the assault ever happened. Many of those citizens might not have voted the way they did if they knew then what they know now. Republican Greg Gianforte’s victory makes a convincing case for restricting early voting.
Montana is one of thirty four states that allow no-excuse absentee voting. Any registered voter can request a ballot without having to provide a reason why. Montana also allows voters to request and submit these absentee ballots up to thirty days before the election. According to election officials, 37 percent of voters filled out absentee ballots in 2014. It’s like that number was just as high this time around. Many Republicans voted for Greg Gianforte before the thought of body slamming a reporter was even a twinkle in his eye.
Scaling Back Early Voting
At the very least, early voting needs to be scaled back dramatically. The way the system is set up now is not how it was envisioned when it was created. Early voting, or absentee voting as it was originally intended to be, was supposed to be for those who would be out of the country on Election Day. Legitimate excuses were required and requesting a ballot was uncommon. Early voting wasn’t meant for people to use just to avoid standing in line at the polls. Nor was it meant to start so early on in the year. In 1992 only seven percent of Presidential election ballots cast were from early voting. In 2012 it was 31.6 percent. That’s nearly one in three votes cast without the full information a voter should have.
The reasons for early voting’s prevalence are clear though. The system is designed to protect the two parties and their candidates. Republicans and Democrats know that so-called October surprises are coming and they want their supporters to vote before that damaging material is released. The politicians who write these early voting rules don’t want voters to have second thoughts and switch their votes or decide to vote for a third party candidate. Early voting protects the two party system and incumbents above all else.
Finally, it is not too much to ask that voters fully inform themselves before casting their ballots. Free and fair elections rely on voters to be fully educated on the issues and the candidates. That’s not possible if millions are voting early with incomplete information. Nor is it too much to ask for citizens to show up on November 8th in person. In fact, that’s the very least that we should be able to expect.
Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte’s victory in Montana is the latest example that proves early voting needs to be restricted. No-excuse absentee voting should be abolished, and ballots should only be accepted one week prior to Election Day. If that was the case in Montana, the results for this special election might have been very different.