Eugene Kontorovich’s Nonsense About Early Voting

Last week I linked to a Politico piece by Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis against early voting.  (I also linked to Doug Chapin’s critique.)

In essence, the argument against early voting is that we need a set election day to make a deliberative choice as a nation.  Having people vote early, the argument goes, treats them as a different set of citizens.

This is a coherent argument, albeit one I have little sympathy for. As I explained here, there is a fundamental divide between liberals and conservatives about what the purpose of voting is for: conservatives see it as about choosing the “best” candidate or “best” policies (meaning limits on who can vote, when and how might make the most sense) and liberals who see it as about the allocation of power among political equals.

Given that I said that Kontorovich’s argument is coherent, where’s the nonsense? It comes from his acceptance of “good old fashioned absentee balloting.”  If one really believes that we need a set election day to all make a deliberative choice together, absentee balloting is even worse than early voting, because it does not even happen in public with other voters.

The current political thinking (which may not even be true anymore) is that early voting helps Democrats while no excuse absentee balloting helps Republicans. So there may be a partisan valence to the Kontorovich suggestion.

Kontorovich has now defended himself in a Volokh blog post. 

If you read it, here’s what he says about absentee balloting: “Others have asked why if we care about civic participation, why we don’t favor a national election holiday. Or why we would tolerate absentee ballots. Well, it is all a matter of tradeoffs, costs and benefits, and there is no objective scale where these can be weighed.”

This is an incoherent response.  If absentee balloting presents exactly the same risks (or even greater risks) than early voting, how can Kontorovich defend it as a trade-off?

It is no secret I take the view that voting is about the allocation of power among political equals. We should take steps to insure that all eligible voters, but only eligible voters, can easily cast a ballot which will be accurately counted. To accomplish that, in person early voting should be expanded, and we should approach absentee balloting cautiously, given the greater risk of vote buying which has been empirically documented and which is flagged as an issue in the PCEA report. If we want to allow as many eligible voters to participate in the political process as possible, I believe we can tolerate some people voting a few days or a few weeks before election day—when the voter does not have to deal with work or childcare conflicts.

But I don’t see anything in Kontorovich’s post which acknowledges the participatory value and the equal citizenship values that come from making voting for eligible voters easier.


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