By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN -- Today is Election Day in West Virginia.
Well, actually Oct. 24 through Nov. 3 (except for Sunday, Oct. 28) as well as the formal Election Day of Nov. 6 are all Election Days in the state, thanks to early voting.
Wednesday, the clerks of all 55 counties opened for early voting, which will last until three days before Election Day and includes both Saturdays (but not Sundays) before the election.
In most cases, but not all, the polling place is the county courthouse, but voters should check with their clerk’s office to make sure.
West Virginia began early voting with the 2002 Primary Election with modest results. Fewer than 15,000 votes, making up just 4 percent of the total vote, were cast early.
But early voting has gradually caught on.
The 2004 General Election produced the first significant numbers of early voters—over 126,000 making up 16 percent of the total vote.
The largest number of early voters came out in the 2008 General Election, when 153,096 (or 22 percent of all votes) cast ballots before the traditional Election Day. And for the last five elections, we have settled in at one in five voters going to the polls early.
Some voters like the convenience of early voting. They don’t have to worry about lines at the polls or something coming up unexpectedly that could keep them from voting on Election Day.
But there is always a bit of a risk with an early vote. What if you learn new information or a candidate makes a critical mistake? You can’t take back your vote.
And others simply enjoy the ritual of going to their local polling place on the traditional Election Day, chatting with familiar poll workers, and casting their ballot.
Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg believes early voting and voting by mail, which a few states allow, are terrible ideas that play to the country’s “cult of convenience.”
“There are lots of reasons to have a single, solitary Election Day, if not on Tuesday then perhaps a 24-hour period over a weekend,” Goldberg writes. “Among the best reasons: Deadlines focus the minds of voters and campaigns alike, and in-person, single-day voting cuts down on the potential for voter fraud.”
I disagree. Lord knows what shenanigans would occur during a 24-hour voting window. Additionally, the inevitable exit poll reporting by the media would discourage voting as race results became evident.
Additionally, there’s really nothing fundamentally bad about convenience in voting.
Not all voters are political junkies. Most are just responsible citizens who want to express their political preferences and carry out their civic duty. These folks have endured, in the case of the Presidential race, months of the campaign.
The early vote allows them to fulfill their obligation and, if they choose, tune out the high-pitched rhetoric of the campaigns final days.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.