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Port: Early voting encourages shallow voting

File photo. Voters wait to cast their votes at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. Grand Forks Herald file photo.
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MINOT, N.D. -- On Thursday, June 4, my colleague, reporter Jeremy Turley, published a profile piece about the three candidates vying to be North Dakota's next Superintendent of Schools.

As typical of Turley's work, it was thorough and enlightening, but it had a problem.

It wasn't terribly timely.

By the time thousands of newsreaders were perusing the article on Thursday morning, most of the ballots that will be submitted in the June election had already been cast.

I checked after reading Turley's article, and the online count published by the Secretary of State's office showed over 103,000 ballots had been turned in .


As a point of reference, over 115,000 ballots were cast in the June 2018 election.

About 139,000 ballots were cast in June of 2016.

North Dakota's 2020 primary will, by Election Day on June 9, probably see a turnout in that ballpark, despite the unusual circumstances of being conducted entirely by mail.

Which is my point.

By the time people are learning about these candidates, most people have already voted.

As many sing the praises of early voting, and voting by mail, we need to realize that those things shrink the window of time during which we are to be learning about the candidates and contrasting them with one another.

We all complain about political campaign season and, hey, I get it. The bomb-throwing and the invective, the gotchas, and the endless, endless ads can all get to be a bit much.

Still, campaign season serves a purpose. The competition between the candidates, the work they do not just to promote themselves but to point out flaws in the opposition, is supposed to inform our decision at the ballot box.


It is, I admit, a less than perfect process, but isn't it preferable to casting a ballot before you know either of the candidates?

How often, in the past, when election day was really election day, the day everyone voted, did voters support one candidate only to change their minds and support another candidate because the campaign process revealed something?

I'm picking on Turley's piece a bit, and I don't mean to. Besides, two of the superintendent candidates will be moving on to the November ballot. The June vote is a winnowing, not the final choice.

Still, early voting has shortened the timeline candidates have for introducing themselves to the electorate.

That's a significant disadvantage, particularly for challengers taking on incumbents who are already tasked with overcoming the headstart their opponents have when it comes to things like campaign organizing and name recognition.

Proponents of early voting say it increases participation in elections, and maybe that's even true, but at what cost is it true?

If it makes informed votes less likely, and incumbency even more of an advantage than it already is, can we say that early voting is a boon to democracy?

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com


Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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