Thousands of Iowa Democrats have already cast their vote for a candidate who won’t be in the race on Election Day. That’s a frustrating situation to be in for many former Nate Boulton supporters. But there’s simply no option to change your vote after the county auditor has received your absentee ballot.
Many are now wondering if they’ll vote early again, criticizing the entire process and discouraging others from voting before Election Day. That’s an understandable feeling to have, but one that folks should reconsider before trying to turn too many people off to the process.
It’s important to remember that even with its potential shortcomings, Iowa’s early vote option opens up the ability to vote for tens of thousands of people who would otherwise not. It banks votes early of people who might have an emergency on Election Day or who just simply get unexpectedly too busy that day to make it to the polls. Obviously, the vote-by-mail method of absentee ballots helps people who would have no other way to vote. And Democrats utilize early vote efforts to turn out a significant amount of their base that is otherwise difficult to get to the polls.
Basically, turnout in Iowa would be noticeably lower if many people suddenly stopped voting early because they got afraid of last-minute surprises in every campaign. While the people who read Starting Line would likely find a way to vote on Election Day no matter what obstacles might come up, not everyone is so committed.
And while the Boulton situation was a shocking development for many and upended the race just two weeks from the primary, in my 15 years in Iowa politics I can’t remember anything similar to it that immediately reshaped the race during the early voting timeframe. Sure, there are always last-minute attack ads and smaller revelations, but nothing where a major candidate drops out after ballots are cast.
So, while this incident may have betrayed some people’s trust who had already cast a ballot, it’s still a very rare occurrence that is unlikely to happen again for some time. Basing too much of one’s opinion on early voting on this one event might not take in the bigger picture. And part of that bigger picture is this: if people start to lose faith in early voting in Iowa, you’d have a far larger number of Democrats who didn’t end up voting at all than the number of frustrated people who would have changed their vote due to a rare, last-minute reveal.
Still, if you yourself have decided to not vote early again, that’s fine. But I would simply suggest caution in criticizing the process publicly to too many other people.
Misconceptions about early voting are widespread, including the annoyingly persistent idea that the votes aren’t counted until after the election (they’re included in the election night total). Some people still believe that absentee ballots aren’t counted at all unless the vote is close (completely wrong).
You might easily scare people who really do need to vote early, including those who think they’ll get to the polls on Election Day, but never do. It’s easy to imagine how fear of last-minute “October Surprises” (or “May Surprise” in this case) could be the latest widespread rumor that hurts early vote efforts.
Most of those people who could get scared off would probably be Democrats who don’t always vote. That’s exactly the type of people the party can’t afford to accidentally miss the vote this November and not turn out.
So, do what you want with your own vote, just be mindful of what conceptions – or misconceptions – that might get spread in the aftermath of this week’s events.
by Pat Rynard