The photo was a social media phenomenon, shared by reporters, political pundits and even former- basketball-star-turned-social-media- influencer Rex Chapman: Sept. 18 was the first day of early voting in Virginia, and the line in Fairfax stretched out of the registrar’s office, out of the building and — as shown in the photo — down the street as far as the lens could capture.
Surely you saw it, because it was shared tens of thousands of times by those individuals, and most carried comments about what this could portend between now and Nov. 3. We will leave those conclusions to you. But the photograph, albeit a snapshot in time, did reinforce one element of elections we think should be universal: There should be early voting at a variety of polling sites that are easily accessible to everyone.
Our overview on this is that elections should be the ultimate in government service. There should be no problem for anyone to participate, and our national laws — and some state and even county laws — should reinforce this as the principle constitutional right.
Of course, as we have it now, that process is fragmented by being ceded to state and local officials to determine what they want to do and how they want to do it.
So what you find is some states aggressively open polling sites for about three weeks — Virginia has at least widened the window — before Election Day, and some don’t do anything until Election Day. And then there are the mail-in states — such as Colorado and Oregon — but we will save that for another time. The idea we want to reinforce is early voting periods are good, but there need to be multiple outlets, geographically dispersed to deliver better reach for the populace. We don’t need precincts like we use on Election Day, but some of those same locations perhaps could be regional satellites.
For instance should a person living in Hurt or Museville or Callands have to drive to Chatham to vote? That seems unfair. In Danville, the geography is more compressed but still having outlets on the east and west ends could be useful.
Even such good ideas don’t always work correctly, though. In some states legislatures have used their authority to limit some voting opportunities. Lawmakers always point to “cost,” but the reality is access for minorities and college students have proven to be deterred by those decisions.
Moreover, though, is there really a cost too high to provide safe, convenient and easy voting? The value to democracy is incalculable, and we can’t fathom why politics and partisanship should have the tiller in those waters. This is about fairness to all, not the advantage of a few.
We also are glad that this year Virginia has designated Election Day as a holiday. Some states do that already, but unfortunately some do so only because they need school facilities for voting, not because the concept is better for voters. We’ve also liked the idea of having primary elections on Saturdays, as happens in Louisiana.
But all these solutions should be national. The general election date in November should be a national holiday. Everyone should have a free schedule to get to the polls. Some in Congress don’t appear to want to address that. We aren’t sure why, but we are guessing it’s because uniformly fair voting practices means that power some have won can’t be wielded in its maintenance.