Early voting

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Vote early, vote often. That cynical election bromide is both more possible and more worrisome as early voting changes the way American elections are conducted.

Oregon voters approved vote-by-mail in 1998 with the aim of increasing voter participation. In 1996, the last Oregon general election before vote-by-mail, 71 percent of the state's registered voters participated. Four years later in Oregon's first vote-by-mail presidential election, nearly 80 percent turned out.

The potential for voter fraud is one of the concerns. But no instances of fraud have been discovered in Oregon, where all voting is conducted by mail. Thirty states allow early voting.

Presidential campaigns no longer can wait until the lead-up to Election Day to sway voters. Voting gets started as early as six weeks before Election Day in some swing states.

Now the city of St. Louis is suing Matt Blunt, secretary of state and Republican gubernatorial candidate, over early-voting legislation passed in 2002.

Blunt claims the law does not authorize early voting, only the development of plans for early voting. However, Blunt says he, like Democratic gubernatorial candidate Claire McCaskill, is in favor of early voting, once funding is in place.

In the most recent presidential election in Missouri, 61 percent of the state's registered voters went to the polls. We admit to a lack of enthusiasm for early voting, perhaps in part because it is new and untested. If it works and the results can be verified, the democratic process should benefit.

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