Early voting is good for voters, good for candidates and good for democracy

By Martin Fitzgerald, Nevada state director, Let America Vote

I’ve experienced voting in two states: Maryland and Nevada.

In 2006, when I voted for the first time in Maryland, I waited in a three-hour line that snaked throughout a school building. But when I came to Nevada, oh boy, was it a different story. In 2010 and every election since, I’ve never waited in line more than five minutes.

What accounts for the difference? Just about everyone in Nevada can tell you: We don’t have long lines because we have early voting.

Nevada’s early vote begins this Saturday, October 20, and continues through Friday, November 2 — two weeks to cast a ballot quickly, conveniently and securely. Early voting is a critical tool for breaking down barriers to the ballot box and improving civic engagement. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect why it’s so important and valuable for Nevadans and voters across the country.

Early voting helps alleviate lines by spreading out the opportunity to vote over 14 days plus Election Day, so that working people can decide for themselves which location and time best fits their family schedule.

It increases the opportunities and locations for disadvantaged communities to participate in particular. As Emily Badger of the Washington Post wrote in 2014, “These costs associated with voting — in lost pay, in childcare, in transit fares — are higher for minorities and the poor. Which is why they are among the largest beneficiaries of early, flexible voting. […] An hourly cashier, for instance, has a lot less flexibility in when he or she shows up for work than a salaried businessman.”

But the appeal and the benefits of early voting are much wider than that. Shift workers, active-duty members of the military and emergency officials like police, firefighters and EMS may have to work on Election Day. A demanding job or inflexible hours shouldn’t be a barrier to exercising the constitutional right to vote. Early vote ensures that they’re not.

Providing a wider range of options to fit the needs of a diverse community is exactly the purpose of early voting, and a lesson in how election officials can increase participation in democracy to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and represented in government.

There are other considerations, too. Early vote is great for political campaigns and the Nevadans impatient for some peace and quiet amid the noise of the campaign season.

Elections often approach with a barrage of door knocks, phone calls and mail from groups trying to influence your vote and candidates hungry to win it. Early voting allows voters to cast their ballot up to two full weeks ahead of Election Day, and since the list of people who have voted is made public by election officials, campaigns can remove banked votes from their walk lists, phone banks and mass mailings.

That allows the campaigns to refocus their get-out-the-vote resources on undecided and drop-off voters, while sparing those who have already cast ballots the Election Day hard-sell.

Early voting lets voters utter those four magical words that every campaign loves to hear: “Thanks, I’ve already voted.”

There is, of course, more work to be done.

While many states are even more generous than Nevada, many others have limited or non-existent early vote programs. Every politician in America should support a robust, easy-to-access early vote process. It’s pro-voter and pro-democracy.

Here in Nevada, too, we could do better, by expanding early voting to include the Saturday and Sunday before Election Day and increasing polling locations in Native communities.

As Jason Kander is fond of saying, we should treat citizens like customers, and ensure they have the best experience possible. Early voting is a great way of doing just that.