What About Having “Election Month?”
I just had an interesting conversation with my neighbor about voter turnout and the historical basis for election rules. The kind of political debate you’d want to have this close to the election, when tensions are high and people are mostly just waiting for it to be over.
One topic of discussion was the concept of “Election Day.” Sure, in the U.S. this day is the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Which means it’ll always be between November 2nd and 8th — and this year is the last day possible for it to fall on the calendar. But why have one day for elections? Why not Election Month?
On one hand, we don’t really have “Election Day” anymore. Back when the country was founded, everyone had the option of going to vote on one day. In the 200+ years following, states have adjusted this concept significantly. Some states have “early voting,” where you have the option of visiting a specific location(s) and walk right up to the voting machine to cast your ballot. We’ve entered this phase already in the U.S., with several states already letting people go somewhere to vote, even though it’s not the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November.
Absentee ballots are another way we arguably tweaked the concept of Election Day. Although absentee ballots technically aren’t opened and counted until the same day everyone turns out to vote. So while people can record their preferences early, it’s possible to argue these votes aren’t cast until the day everyone else goes to the polls. A good point would be someone that votes absentee then dies. That ballot is still counted. (It’d be impossible — depending on how the physical ballots are handled once received by the government — to know which ballot belonged to the deceased anyway.)
Back to the conversation with my neighbor. He said “maybe we should just have ‘voting MONTH’ or ‘vote until enough people turned out’.” Which is an interesting concept.
Depending on the year, turnout during presidential elections in the U.S. has been roughly 50-65% of the eligible voting age population (VAP). What if we changed it instead to be “voting continues until Election Day or until 80% of VAP turns out, whichever is later.” (I’m just choosing 80% to have a number here, not any particular reason.) Well, that’s definitely a sure-fire way to guarantee voter turnout. Although we’d have to amend the Constitution to also factor in those campaigns where it takes a hellishly long time to reach the 80% threshold. Maybe something like “… until Election Day or until 80% of VAP turns out, whichever is later. And the winning candidate’s term starts ten weeks after being declared the winner.”
So what does this solve? Apart from being a neat little thought exercise, this would necessarily increase voter turnout. We’d have no choice, the polls would stay and remain open until turnout hits the right number. Could we have elections where no one ends up winning? Where we never hit that 80% (or whatever) threshold? Yup. And that’s a decision unto itself. If that rule was in place in 2016, we’d be saying “if you want Obama’s term to end, you need to go vote” (mostly to Republicans) or “if you want Obama to stay in office indefinitely, stay home a while” (mostly to Democrats). There could theoretically be situations where people are lackadaisical enough to just never vote, and current office holders stay where they are until the next time around. Well, in a democracy, that’s still a decision of the masses.
My neighbor thought somehow this would make term limits irrelevant. I don’t quite agree. Regardless of your position on term limits (pro or con), it’s not really affected by expanding the length of an “Election Day.” You wouldn’t vote or not-vote because someone has been in office too long. And there’s no reason the current two-term presidential system we have wouldn’t work just as well with a longer voting period than one day for voting (exceptions above noted on the word “day”).
One other situation in democracies that this feels like it would address but probably doesn’t is the “tyranny of the majority” situation. A candidate with a single vote more than the person in second place wins under current rules. (Again, a huge simplification that doesn’t work in some situations like in referendums where a certain turnout percentage has to be met.) Let’s say we’re voting on who pays for a city’s big new shiny project, Group A of voters or Group B. If Group B is 20,001 and Group A is 20,000 and everyone turns out to vote, we pretty much have half the city getting shafted by the other half. (Literally 49.99875…%) Perhaps in close elections like our example here, the “Election Period” idea could even be worse. Both Group A and Group B are motivated to stop even two people from voting. And in extreme situations, where the stakes are high enough, it’s feasible that someone could find themselves physically prevented from going to the voting booth. (Let’s say they win a year-long world cruise to put a positive spin on everyone’s dire and dark scenarios playing out mentally right now.)
Then again, close elections may never get resolved, which could possibly be the goal. In our city example above, let’s assume they never reach the turnout number needed. In a scenario where pretty much half the population benefits and half is harmed, that shouldn’t be a bad thing. But the question then turns to whether or not voter turnout would be affected by the zero-sum question being answered. First, it’s not often that type of question is posed to voters. And second, does it motivate turnout? Ehh, debatable but probably not.
Anyway, food for thought. Something to think about more and maybe write about further.