It may be tomorrow, or the day after that. It might have been last week. It’s up to you, really.
Actually, the word “day” is obsolete in this context. “Voting season” might be a better way to put it, and it’s changing democracy. Exactly how remains a mystery, however.
Yes, Election Day officially is Nov. 6, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. But that’s now more a deadline than an event.
If you voted in the fourth congressional district last week, then watched the televised debate between Mia Love and Ben McAdams, would you have regretted your choice?
Did news stories this week about Canada legalizing recreational marijuana — furthering the argument that a loose medical marijuana law naturally leads to recreational weed — change your position on Proposition 2? How about promises that key politicians plan to fix that proposition, even if it passes?
Would a private conversation with a neighbor about the non-binding Question 1, to raise the price of gas by 10 cents a gallon to help schools, change your mind? Maybe the neighbor has a low-income relative who can’t afford to pay any more at the pump, and that put the whole thing in a different light for you, if you hadn’t already voted.
Or maybe you let the ballot sit on the kitchen counter for a while because you weren’t expecting it to contain three proposed amendments to the state constitution. You’ve promised yourself to spend some time studying these online, but that time never seems to come.
When can you be sure you’re sure?
We used to all go to the polls with much the same information in our heads. Now we pick and choose when to turn off the spigot.
And if you’re a candidate or a campaign manager, how do you time op-eds in the local paper, or strategic social media posts? The old-fashioned October surprise attack on your opponent had better be launched in September or you’ll miss a lot of votes. Can you do much more at this point than just urge your base to drop their ballots in the mail?
You may be wondering, how did we get here? How did we go from hanging chads and extra federal money for states to buy newfangled electronic voting machines to this – a pen and a piece of paper? Isn’t this the opposite of what experts were predicting 18 years ago when internet voting was just over the horizon? Was there a vote on this somewhere we missed? When was the debate held?
The answer is, just like a lot of things — from the move toward a cashless society to watching movies on demand at home and the death of shopping malls — it just happened. No one held a debate on whether we should keep shooting pictures with film or using floppy disks, did they?
But this isn’t merely a business decision. It affects how we govern ourselves, and it will be worth watching and studying as it unfolds.
A couple of years ago, California State University associate political science professor Elizabeth Bergman published a study that showed voting by mail may actually reduce voter turnout — the opposite of what its champions have claimed.
She found evidence suggesting that when mailing ballots is the only option, turnout decreased by about 13 percent.
However, this changed when local election officials sent out official reminders — voter guides, letters, etc. As she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “Each additional communication improved the odds of voting by 4 percent.”
She said scholars are learning that a lack of official “stimulation” to vote tends to outweigh the benefits of the convenience a mail-in ballot provides.
Some other research, however, suggests mail-in voting does increase turnout. We probably won’t know definitively until it’s been done for several more elections.
This year, Utah’s voter guides are online, complete with arguments for and against ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments. The hope is that mail-in ballots will lead to more thoughtful voter decisions. But only voters can determine whether this is true.
Utah really doesn’t have much to lose. The state ranked 39th nationally in voter turnout in 2016, with only 57.7 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. My guess is it probably will take more than paper and pen to make that change.