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More than one million Massachusetts residents cast ballots between Oct. 24 and Nov. 4, marking the Bay State’s first time allowing early voting in a presidential election—more than 20 percent of the state’s nearly 4.3 million registered voters.
Early voting allows for more people to partake in elections—particularly those who may not otherwise be able to, said Matthew A. Baum, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government.
“The U.S. has a pretty bizarre system where we hold our national elections on a weekday, it’s not a holiday, and it’s primarily during business hours, so it’s harder for people to vote in the U.S. and participate in an election than it is in any other advanced democracy,” Baum said.
“Early voting is, in effect, extending the period of the election,” he added. “This is a good thing, because it allows people who might have difficulty showing up to the polling place on that one day to have other options. I don’t think that it’s terribly surprising that a lot of people are doing [early voting].”
Timothy P. McCarthy, a lecturer at the Kennedy School, said voting advocates see early voting as one piece of a larger effort to strengthen the democratic process.
The early voting turnout for Massachusetts “is certainly a confirmation for any of us who have been advocating for years now to give people better opportunities to exercise their right to vote,” McCarthy said. “Democracy works best when as many people as possible are engaged,”
While some critics of early voting argue that the process decreases overall voter turnout because of a reduced emphasis on Election Day voting, Baum said the high early voting turnout speaks for itself.
“There is some debate among election scholars about whether, in the net, early voting might lead to a decline in overall participation–because there’s an argument that some of what causes people to turn out is the fact that this is a big national event,” Baum said. “There’s a big social norm of showing up, and it’s almost a celebration of democracy. You might sacrifice some of that by showing up the earlier week.”
McCarthy added that this election season’s political climate may have spurred public engagement in the political process as a whole.
“In terms of the turnout, I think there’s been a democratic outpouring of energy in this election–that means both that people are more engaged in our national politics in this moment and also that people are more fervently determined to exercise their right to vote,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also traced the rise of participation to the “anger and alienation” that this presidential election has sparked across the country.
“So I think there may be a situation right now where the alienation that so many people feel, the anger that so many people feel towards politics and our political candidates and our political institution are actually inspiring them to engage more actively in politics,” he said. “It’s something of a paradox, that the anger and alienation that we see across the country may be fueling a rise in engagement politically from people all over the political spectrum.”
Ballots submitted during Massachusetts's early voting period will be counted on Election Day.
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