Election Day is four weeks from tomorrow, but registered voters in Georgia begin casting early ballots today. Tennessee voters can do the same starting Wednesday. Peach and Volunteer state residents aren't alone in being able to vote early. Just about every state now allows some type of in-person early voting. That continues to bring significant changes to political campaigns.
The number of individuals who vote prior to Election Day makes it difficult for candidates to ignore early voters. That's especially true this year since political scientists and election officials generally agree that a perhaps a third, if not more, of all ballots cast in the upcoming election will be case before Nov. 6. That's a good thing.
It validates the expanded opportunity to vote given Americans by doing away with the time restriction that a single day of voting imposes. Welcome as it is, the practice of early voting should be approached with caution.
Georgians who vote in the presidential election today or tomorrow, for example, will do so before President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney hold their second debate tomorrow evening. Those who vote prior to Oct. 22 will do so before the final debate between the pair. Many voters probably have no problem with doing so. Their minds, they say, are made up and nothing said or done between the time they cast a ballot and Nov. 6 can change their mind. Not everyone, though, is blessed — or cursed — with such certainty.
Many voters understandably prefer to watch or hear the debates and to continue to follow public discussions about issues important to them. Some want to take a bit longer to assess a candidate's personality and principles. Still others, perhaps the more cynical segment of the voting public, want to wait until the end of the campaign season to see if a candidate says or does something so outrageous or scandalous that it can change their minds. For all of them, waiting to vote is probably wise.
There is, of course, no need to rush to a polling site. Early voting is not a requirement. It is simply an opportunity for voters to cast a ballot at a time of their choosing.
Extending the time frame in which voters can cast a ballot is a sensible advance in democracy. Anything that makes it more convenient for registered voters to fulfill their civic obligation is sure to have positive impact on the political system. If nothing else, the large turnouts prompted by early voting can deliver a broader and more consequential portrait of the electorate's desires and wishes for the future of their communities, states and nation than a smaller one. Moreover, early voting helps expedite the election process.
That's of considerable importance this year when the presidential election, atop ballots that also contain local and state elections, will attract large and perhaps record numbers of voters. If a significant number of voters take advantage of the chance to vote early, the lines on Nov. 6 should be shorter and far less taxing for voters and election workers.
Hamilton County's early voting times and sites should be familiar by now. The Election Commission office off Amnicola Highway will be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturdays beginning Wednesday through Nov. 1. Sites at the Brainerd Recreation Center on North Moore Road, Northgate Mall and Eastwood Church on Ooltewah-Ringgold Road will be open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday through Nov. 1.
Residents in other jurisdictions should check with their county election offices to ascertain early balloting sites and times. Doing so does not obligate one to go the polls early. There's nothing wrong with being a traditionalist who votes on Election Day, Nov. 6.