Katie Sieben Viewpoint: Early voting would provide convenience, confidence to voters
This year Minnesota again led the nation in voter participation, with 76 percent of eligible voters casting ballots in the 2012 general election. While Minnesota's election system is consistently one of the best in the world, it still has some room for improvement.
The large number of people voting before Election Day coupled with the long lines and waiting times at polling places demonstrates the growing demand by voters to have more convenience in exercising their voting rights. Early voting will reduce congestion at polling places and simplify the system of voting before Election Day, while providing voters with more convenience and confidence that their vote is counted.
While access to voting could be increased by two approaches, either establishing early voting or expanding the absentee voting process, early voting will better reflect the lives of voters in the 21st century and provide voters with more time to cast their vote.
When voters cast their ballot in person, they have the opportunity to immediately put their ballot into the voting machine that notifies them of any errors on the ballot, providing them with an opportunity to make a correction and ensure their vote is counted. An absentee voter does not have that protection.
Similar to "no excuse" absentee voting, early voting does not require a voter to indicate why they are choosing to vote prior to Election Day. The distinct advantage to early voting is that the process of voting is the same as it is on Election Day, only it happens earlier. The same safeguards would be in place to protect the integrity of our elections, and unlike absentee voting, early voting will allow voters to know that their vote will be counted.
Additionally, the process of voting by absentee ballot can oftentimes be confusing and is prone to a high rate of errors. Currently to vote by absentee, voters must complete an application, identify one of the permitted reasons for requesting an absentee ballot and then submit their completed ballot. While removing the excuse requirement does provide some convenience, the absentee ballots are still verified for eligibility and counted at a later time, so the voter does not have the benefit of putting their completed ballot into voting machine to ensure it was completed without error.
Another common concern is that early vote totals published ahead of time could discourage voters from turning out on Election Day. However, in Minnesota, we don't register by political party and vote totals are just that, vote totals; they wouldn't be election results for each candidate, but simply the total number of votes cast.
Voting is one of our most important constitutional rights and the foundation of our democracy. Thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia currently offer some form of early voting. Early voting addresses a demand from Minnesotans whose busy work schedules and personal lives can conflict with their ability to cast their vote. As the incoming chair of the state Senate Subcommittee on Elections, I look forward to hearing from the public as we discuss early voting policy at the Capitol in 2013.
Sieben represents Senate District 54.