Traditionalists and the curmudgeonly might take exception to rules that allow early voting, but the practice has proved both popular and utile. Though still a relatively new custom, many voters already have made a habit of casting a ballot prior to election day. More should. Early balloting has helped slow an alarming decline in the number of ballots cast in local, state and national elections, re-energized the electoral process and strengthened the citizen participation that is essential to American democracy.
Tristate election officials expect those positive trends to continue this year. They'll be proved right or wrong soon. Early voting for the July 31 election in Georgia already is under way. It ends July 27. Early balloting for the Aug. 2 Tennessee general and primary elections starts Friday and concludes July 28. Those time frames should negate the traditional excuse for not voting. They allow voters who want to balance civic duty with hectic work schedules and myriad family responsibilities to do so when they choose rather than fail to vote because of a conflict on an election day.
Voters who want to cast an early ballot should call their county election commission or check its website for times and locations before heading to the polls. The number of early voting sites is limited and times of operation vary from county to county. Would-be voters in Tennessee and Georgia have to remember to bring a photo ID, as well. They can't vote without one. The requirement understandably continues to stir debate about several issues, especially voter suppression. Provisional ballots don't resolve those problems, but they will be available to those without an acceptable ID.
Hamilton County early voting sites are open an hour longer this election cycle than in the past. The Election Commission office on River Terminal Road off Amnicola Highway will be open from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m.-7p.m. on Saturdays during the voting period. The satellite polling stations - at the Brainerd Recreation Center on North Moore Road, at Northgate Mall near the Belk entrance and in Collegedale at Eastwood Baptist Church at 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road - will be open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The increasingly utlilized early voting period provides an expanded opportunity to cast a ballot. Registered voters simply have to muster the will to get to the polls at an appropriate time and place between now and the end of the month. That shouldn't be too difficult a task. The U.S. form of government works best when those who live under it participate wholeheartedly in the political system. Early voting, a sensible expansion of Election Day, makes it easier for registered voters to undertake that vital duty.