Clarence Fanto: Why not tweak Election Day parameters? It would have my vote.
LENOX — Shouldn't we abolish Election Day, as we've known it, since, in many states, only a minority of participating voters appear on the designated Tuesday (or in the case of the Nevada caucus and next weekend's South Carolina primary, on Saturdays)?
About 75,000 of Nevada's caucusers showed up during the four-day early voting period that ended Tuesday. Most likely, that will be the vast majority of total ballots cast, and it means that none of the early birds was able to consider the widely viewed Wednesday night debate on NBC. Some voters who take part in Caucus Day may well have been swayed by what they witnessed during that verbal brawl that reinvigorated Elizabeth Warren's campaign.
Minnesotans began early voting Jan. 17 for the March 3 Super Tuesday primary. It's the only state that allows voters to retrieve their ballots and change their votes up to a week before Election Day.
Many of the 14 states choosing one-third of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention offered a head start at the polling booth before mid-February. In Massachusetts, early voting is this upcoming week.
"Super Tuesday has never really been March 3 for us," said Pete Kavanaugh, an adviser to Joe Biden's campaign. "In our minds and from a resource-allocation perspective, Super Tuesday began in early February."
The Michael Bloomberg money-buys-all campaign that bypassed four states in favor of a hoped-for mother lode of delegates March 3 is counting on a big head start.
"We need supporters for Mike Bloomberg to vote early, independent of whatever is going on," Will Dubbs, a deputy campaign official, told The Associated Press. "It is just very, very important for us to make sure we bank those votes, and we can concentrate our efforts elsewhere."
I can't help but wonder if any of the folks who balloted for Bloomberg may now have voter's regret following his dismal debate performance Wednesday.
The Bernie Sanders campaign also aims to exploit the advantage of what must be called the constantly lengthening voting season. According to his spokeswoman Sarah Ford, Sanders sees early voting as a way to boost turnout among core constituencies like young, minority and working-class voters.
Extended balloting opens new opportunities for people with strict work schedules or other barriers to voting to find time to cast ballots before the typical Election Day, she asserts.
"Early voting is another vehicle to make sure those people have the opportunity to vote for Bernie," Ford said.
California mailed ballots to more than 12 million likely voters starting Feb. 3. More than 1 million votes were cast before the recent revelatory debate.
Other states galloping out of the starting gate especially quickly include Colorado, North Carolina and Texas. All Coloradans got a ballot by mail, and state officials expect 60 percent of them will send back their choice before Super Tuesday.
Not sure whether to cite the views of Robby Mook, who mismanaged Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, but we'll give him a pass, since he had a flawed candidate. He believes early voters are mostly core supporters.
"You're often cannibalizing from what you were going to get on Election Day anyway," he said. "The question every campaign, if it's honest, is asking itself is: `How many new votes have I turned out?' "
As a fierce advocate of maximum turnout on primary and general election days, I have to swallow hard before taking a swipe at early voting. In 2016, only 56 percent of eligible voters (the voting-age population of 250 million, consisting of U.S. citizens 18 and older) cast ballots for the national election.
But it's getting ridiculous. For the Nov. 3 general election this year, Californians can vote 29 days in advance, Illinoisans 40 days ahead, Michiganders 45 days early. At least seven other states allow a five- or six-week head start, and many more let you vote starting Oct. 3.
Massachusetts, more reasonably, offers 15 days' lead time.
Bottom line: There's a widening gap, practically and politically, between getting out the vote and getting out the facts.
In October 2016, I wrote in this space that the official Election Day had lost much of its meaning, having morphed into Election Season. About 40 percent of voters showed up before that year's day, the 8th of the month.
As I noted, in 1845 Congress passed a law designating the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as Election Day. At the time, farmers dominated the electorate, many lived a day's journey from their polling sites, so, a two-day window was needed.
Since Sunday was reserved for churchgoers and Wednesdays were market day for farmers, Tuesday was deemed the most practical choice. November was selected to avoid conflicts with planting season in the spring and harvest in the early fall. November seemed safe, ahead of potential winter storms.
Now, as in 2016, many people work two jobs with odd schedules and need to deal with family responsibilities.
Why not have two election days, the first Friday and Saturday of November? Confine early voting to the last week of October. Don't schedule debates beyond Oct. 20.
It's now been 14 years since I first argued that if you don't vote, the complaint window is closed.
For a minimal effort, exercising your precious right as a patriotic American yields a maximum result. Now, more than ever.
Information from vote.org and The Associated Press was included in this commentary.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.
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