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Customer is King: How Early Voting is Changing the "Market" for Voting

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[Image courtesy of wekgna]

My friend, colleague and coleslaw connoisseur Paul Gronke of Reed College was interviewed by NPR's Morning Edition this week on the subject of early voting. There's a lot of interesting material in that interview - which comes from Paul's years of study of early voting - but my eye was caught by the following passage in the interview:

Gronke explains that early voting differs considerably by region, with Western states in particular embracing the trend.

"We really have three elections going on at once," says Gronke. "We have one big election but three kind of regional elections. In the West ... half the ballots overall come in by mail. ... Colorado will be 75 percent of the ballots by mail. California may be between 50 and 60 percent."

"Then, in the Southeast you have kind of a balanced system, where about one-third of the ballots are coming in 'no excuse' absentee, another third will be cast early in person ... and then the other third at the polling place" on Election Day.

"And then you have the Northeast, where people still stand on street corners. They wave signs with their coffee, and they vote on Election Day."

These regional differences illustrate an important point that often gets lost in the discussion of the differences between in laws and procedures between states - namely, that voters in different regions represent different election "markets". More specifically, the combination of civic culture, habit and laws creates different demand for different types of balloting. For election officials, these different markets require them to seek ways to balance their operations to maximize their scarce resources to match the differing demand for ballots from different voters.

Indeed, these different markets create opportunities to study how these mixtures of Election Day, early and vote by mail ballots affect things like cost per voter and other aspects of the election administration process. Those results may help officials in different "markets" determine how best to optimize their own operations.

Thanks to Paul for this observation - it's an important note and one worth watching as Election 2012 approaches.

1 Comment


  • In Washington state we are 100% mail in ballot. A few weeks before the election your ballot comes along with a voter pamphlet where each candidate gets a say what they want. I can't tell you how great it is to be able to sit down with your ballot and work through each of the candidates pausing to do a little online research if you need to.

    You never walk into a booth thinking you are voting for 2-3 elections then are confronted with 20 elections (most of them local) and a half dozen initiatives that are written out in legal-sleaze. Vote by mail, gives voters the time they need to be informed and it gives them the convenience to actually be able to vote. Also it saves the state money, which is good because some numb nut somewhere, is going to force a recount on something...

    "OH but what if snail mail eats your ballot?"
    If its before the election, you call and have another one set out and they void the old one if they ever get it. Each ballot is tracked so it's not like someone could call for 10 replacements and they would all count.

    If its after the election, you retain a tracking stub and you can use a smart phone QR reader or go online and make sure it has been counted. If not call and raise holy hell.

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