Staff Columnist

If early voting is so great, why not do everything early?

Good riddance to 40 days of early voting in Iowa

People line up to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. About 60 people showed up to cast their votes as soon as the Johnson County Auditor's office opened on the first day of early voting statewide. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)
People line up to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. About 60 people showed up to cast their votes as soon as the Johnson County Auditor's office opened on the first day of early voting statewide. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)

Early voting came late this year.

This week was the first chance for Iowans to vote early — 29 days before the June 5 primary, a change from the previous 40-day window.

Iowa Democrats have criticized the abbreviated early voting period, which was part of an expansive “voter integrity” package signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad a year ago. But if early voting is so great, consider a few other early activities Iowans may want to consider.

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

- - Donald Rumsfeld

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense

Early automobile transactions. Buyers could finalize their vehicle purchase before they take a test drive.

Early final exams. Students could take their tests anytime throughout the semester.

Early tax breaks. Lawmakers could slash the state government’s revenues before they know the impacts of millions in recent budget cuts.

By the way, that last one really happened this year at the state Legislature. Some of the same Democrats who decry the shorter early voting season saw how bad an idea it was.

The problems here should be obvious. All those situations involve making a final decision before acquiring all the relevant information. Voting 40 days before the election is no different.

Far from hypothetical, there are plenty of real-world events which demonstrate the folly of voting more than a month before candidates reach the finish line.

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For example, the Iowa Legislature just adjourned last weekend, inside the previous 40-day early voting window. With that in place, voters would have been casting ballots in legislative primaries while lawmakers were still debating bills.

If legislative elections are a referendum on legislative work, surely it can’t be thoughtfully carried out before lawmakers cast their last votes of the session.

The same goes for local government. Just this week, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors was considering approval of its comprehensive plan, a 156-page document which will affect nearly every facet of county policymaking for the next 10 years.

Voters can’t possibly have a fully informed opinion about the supervisors running for re-election before they read the final version of the comprehensive plan, arguably the single most impactful document the county publishes.

We all know this holds true in national politics. During early voting for the 2016 election, voters learned the FBI was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and new details emerged about Donald Trump’s international connections. That’s information voters should have had before they cast ballots.

And of course there will always be other controversies and developments we can’t foresee.

As the unwitting political philosopher Donald Rumsfeld said during the lead-up to the Iraq War, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld was wrong about the war, but it turns out to be solid advice for early voting.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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