Regarding the panel I mentioned below, it’s also worth noting some of the comments made by John Fortier, author of Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils, who discussed the evolution of the trend of so-called “convenience voting.” Up until the late 1970s/early 1980s, a voter had to either be in the military or give an otherwise compelling reason to vote by absentee ballot. In addition, absentee voters had to have a notary public watch them fill out the ballot and sign on to it. But those restrictions went away and in the 1980s absentee voting became more about convenience. The convenience voting trend grew in the 1990s with the expansion of early voting. In 1980, 5 percent of the public voted before Election Day, but in 2004, about 25 percent did. In Oregon, everybody votes by mail because the state did away with polling places altogether. Some voters send their ballots in as early as September, meaning that they miss out on a significant amount of election news, including candidate debates. Also, according to Fortier, there’s no evidence that convenience voting boosts turnout. Fortier argued that from a civics standpoint, we lose a lot from moving away from Election Day in favor of a system of convenience voting. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the practice is here to stay, and believes that if we have to choose one or the other, a short period of early voting is preferable because at least if it’s done at a polling place there’s less opportunities for fraud, or for mistakes, such as ballots being lost by the post office. Either way, it’s definitely a discussion we should be having now, rather than when in the midst of a nasty disputed election.
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