Can We Bring Election Day Back From the Dead? | Opinion

Some of my favorite memories of my youth are filled with staying up late on Election Night. I remember watching with my parents to see if Richard Nixon would get past Hubert Humphrey in 1968. It was not a late night four years later, as Nixon steamrolled George McGovern, but there was suspense as votes were tallied in my first election as a voter. I tried to prevent the Jimmy Carter presidency in 1976, but alas, I did not have enough help—a nation watched Gerald Ford returned to private life.

But it was thrilling to watch a nation gather for a day of engaged civic participation, followed by a night of coverage that would determine America's course for the ensuing four years. I have covered every election since 1980 as a broadcaster and writer, a witness to a series of largely one-sided results from the Reagan years through the Clinton years. The Bush versus Gore dead heat of 2000, which took forever to settle, seems to have ushered in an era of election experimentation that has served to erode the storied practice of voters gathering over the course of one day and watching results over the course of one night.

Barack Obama's two presidential victories were not close, but an affliction was by then already tightening its grip over the land: the dubious notion that convenience must be a driving force in setting election policy.

It began with the erosion of Election Day into a weeks-long stretch allowing in-person voting many days before the official tally. Late campaign developments and revelations that previously had the power to tilt a race lost that capacity, as millions decided they were willing to cast votes without the full window of information available to voters who waited. But was the nation ever going to be served well by votes cast in October by people who wished they could have them back days later?

I have hated early voting since it reared its head, and for most of that time my complaints about it have been met with resistance or outright disdain. How could I possibly oppose something, I was often asked, that is so convenient?

When I have offered the notion that perhaps convenience is not the most important factor in establishing election procedures, I have been scolded as a blasphemer. My arguments in favor of the value of an educated Election Day vote cast as an act of civic duty were met as if I had belched in church.

But maybe folks are coming around. If weeks of voting are an irritant, we now have the spectacle of weeks of counting results. At least the early voting I initially railed against was conducted in-person; now, we are bombarded with mail-in voting, ballot harvesting, drop boxes and other assaults on election security, many foisted on us in a wave of COVID panic in 2020.

There will always be close elections, and some may legitimately take a while to sort out. But one of the reasons David McCormick and Dr. Oz are cooling their heels in Pennsylvania is that it is taking an eternity to process thousands of mail-in ballots from people who previously would have had to actually show up to vote. Can anyone argue that we have been well-served by this insatiable fetish for voting "convenience?"

A man fills out a ballot at
A man fills out a ballot at a voting booth on May 17, 2022 in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Some states have sought to return to the pre-COVID status quo ante, drawing absurd cries of "voter suppression." From early voting to mail-in voting, the fads of this age have usually been a Democratic Party-driven practice, so it is easy to understand why Democrats would seek to maintain procedures that may provide it with winning margins.

But a lesson may be at hand. In Georgia, where Democrats attacked the Election Integrity Act of 2021 as a return to the evils of Jim Crow, vote totals exploded in the lead-up to yesterday's primary. As early voting ended last Friday, more than 800,000 ballots had already been cast, triple the number of early votes in the last off-year election of 2018, and more than in the presidential year of 2020. That is not exactly the aroma of suppressed turnout.

In all but lopsided blowout elections, our fate now seems to be endless days of vote-counting. We have failed to maintain the solid, reliable practice of in-person voting on Election Day.

If a single Election Day is a relic, then how about at least long voting weekend—Friday through Sunday? We have added almost 100 million people since the early voting scourge was first allowed; we may not be able to process so many votes as we once did.

But as we wrestle over how many days to permit voting, can we at least reclaim the fundamentals of the civic practice itself? Mail-in ballots should be limited to active-duty military and the home-bound disabled, with a narrow additional latitude for people whose jobs make it impossible (not merely inconvenient) to vote in their hometowns.

The forces that have engineered, and benefited from, the savaging of our election norms are clearly unnerved at the prospect of returning to past practices. Suspicions are already afoot that the current murmurs of "monkeypox" or some other concocted concern will arise to serve as the "midterm variant"—a health story that will be mobilized to justify a repeat of 2020's voting mischief run amok.

The current electorate longs for a return to sanity on a number of fronts, from issues surrounding race and gender to the management of our schools, our borders and our economy. If the pendulum is indeed about to swing in a better direction, we should try to include a return to the voting practices that served us well back before we sacrificed the reliability and efficiency of Election Day at the altar of "convenience."

Mark Davis is Host of "The Mark Davis Show" on 660AM on "The Answer" KSKY, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.