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The Indefinite Article.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Voting Thoughts

Early voting is a pretty interesting initiative. In some ways, one of the classic assumptions of traditional democracy and elections is that elections are a one-day affair (in my head at least). However, every since voting was expanded past age of majority white male property owners, it has probably been difficult to get everyone's ballot cast on the same day. The problem is apparent enough in national elections across time zones where polls close at different GMT's because of local time customs.

However, the hype and national theater of democracy is the "exit poll" and the concession and victory speeches. Early voting completely bypasses this and makes your vote very convenient, un-newsworthy and un-sexy. It makes voting like paying your bills at the grocery store--some people pay their bills early, some on time, too bad so sad for the people who pay late in this case. What will happen when most people are using the far more convenient method of early voting? Will news coverage of an election crank up in the weeks before an election and update their exit poll predictions of who is winning?

I've been thinking about concession and victory speeches since the 200 election. What does the concession speech mean? I've grown up with democracy being this epitomized by this event hyped as one fateful day closed off by a speech that for all intents and purposes decides the election. After the concession speech the ballot counters may keep on, but at that point they are treated as a technicality. What would happen if a candidate conceded, but then won the ballot count? By issuing a speech, are they legally taking themselves out or the running?

An additional interesting aspect of early voting is that it breaks geographic barriers as well as chronological ones. Instead of having to go back to my neighborhood and vote in my "precinct," I took a walk down to the local Fiesta by the office and voted. I think that voting in a polling place other than your home precinct is a well established thing people can do in Texas, but early voting emphasizes this option because the limited number of polling places will likely bring you to a place other than your precinct. I wonder how long it will take for the precinct to become an absolute anachronism?

On a different note, I toyed around with the write-in candidate option of the polling software. Anyone who has made a high score on a video game will find the process easy. However, there are a couple of gotchas that I thought of on the walk back from voting and this morning. For one, if you enter "Bob Smith," how do they know which Bob Smith you are voting for? Second, although the voting instructions are in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, the voting software only supported roman capital letters. My recollection is hazy, but I don't think you could even put a hyphen in a name. Third, the only write-in option seemed to be for the presidential election; there were no write in slots available for any other office.

All of this has been directly affected by the one Republican I did vote for, Paul Bettencourt, who seems to me to be a very dynamic and progressive county tax assessor and collector. His office runs the elections and definitely lives up to his tag-line of "Smart Government through efficiency, technology, and customer service."


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