Voter Suppression Threat: Limits on Early Voting

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In the 2012 election, 32 percent of United States voters relied on early voting to have their ballot cast. “Early voting laws are supposed to make it easier for people to get to the polls. But like other attempts to expand voting access, they’ve often become yet another partisan battleground,” said Vox writer Emily Stewart. 

People who work, senior citizens, people with disabilities, college students, or anyone else who may struggle getting to the polls at a designated time on a designated day utilize early voting. 

Early voting allows voters to cast their vote in an election during a designated range of dates, which affords them more flexibility. 

Some states already allow up to two or three weeks for people to cast their ballot, while other states have limited the time to three days or less. Others, like Pennsylvania, do not allow early voting at all. 

“It impacts some people disproportionately, particularly people who work in hourly wage jobs,” Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach said. “It also affects moms who have young kids as they have different and unexpected schedules.”

According to Leach, if someone’s polling location is downtown and it’s inconvenient to get there on Election Day, giving them three weeks to vote increases the likelihood they will cast a ballot. “With more flexibility and opportunity, people are more likely to vote, increasing overall voter turnout,” Leach said. 

In another example, say a person is  going to visit a friend a week or so before the election. This person can just vote before leaving and not have to worry about it on Election Day.  

Early voting laws are determined on a state-by-state basis by state laws. These laws are determined by elected officials at the state level. These legislatures make their own rules and regulations surrounding early voting. 

Not allowing early voting has impacts on people beyond those who are unable to vote, but also, the “regular voter” who now has to deal with longer lines at their polling places on Election Day. “When lines are shorter, they are much more likely to stay in the line,” Leach said. Early voting is aimed at helping bring people to the polls and to get people involved. 

Long lines at polling locations are a direct result of not allowing early voting. If voters were allowed extra time to vote, there would be drastically fewer people at the polls on the official election day, according to Leach. 

“If 1,000 people need to vote at a single location on just one day, that is going to be a problem. But if 400 or even 500 of those people have already voted through the early voting system, then the lines are going to be that much shorter,” Leach said. 

Early voting is likely to increase voter turnout in non-presidential elections as well, which have lower polling numbers. “You’re not going to get presidential-level voting turnout at low-interest races, but it will increase turnout at every election,” Leach said.

While Pennsylvania does not open the polls early to its voters, it does allow absentee voting. Registered voters need an approved excuse to vote through absentee ballot. These approved excuses are very limited and vary by state. In Pennsylvania, the list of approved excuses include college students, people whose work takes them away from the municipality where they live, those with a physical disability or illness, members of the military and people who may have a conflict due to the celebration of a religious holiday. Criminal charges can be filed for providing false or inaccurate information on an absentee ballot.

“Like a lot of election legislation, whether people support it or not, it tends to coincide with whether they think it helps them politically,” Leach said. “The only reason [early voting is] not a thing is because it’s political.”

In the case of early voting, the Republican party believes that it will increase the amount of  Democrats casting their votes. In Pennsylvania, Leach said, there is legislation in progress to allow early voting, but it has not been passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. 

The goal for early voting is to get people involved in the democratic process. As people are being restricted of this right they are becoming frustrated and unrepresented. With the allowance of an early voting system in Pennsylvania, thousands more people would have their votes counted and become as equally represented as their fellow Americans. 

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Youth Voters Unite is a transmedia storytelling project produced by senior Communication majors at Cabrini University. Students in Senior Convergence: Media for Social Justice are reporting this academic year on the voting process and voting justice topics. Their goal is to educate youth voters on the importance of engaging in the political process and claiming their right to shape their own future. 

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