2018 | Politics

Former County Council Member Calls for an End to Early Voting

Phil Andrews says data disproves the theory that more days for voting increases turnout

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Early voting in Montgomery County begins on Oct. 25, but at least one resident won’t be heading to the polls prior to the Nov. 6 general election.

Phil Andrews, a Democrat who represented District 3 on the Montgomery County Council from 1998 to 2014, has argued in a recent Washington Post opinion piece that early voting does a disservice to residents who may risk not being informed by late-breaking news when they cast ballots before Election Day. In the op-ed, he cites the example of the news of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s 1976 arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, which broke just days before the 2000 presidential election.

“Would we allow some members of a jury to vote about the guilt of a defendant in a criminal trial before the prosecutor and defense attorney had completed his or her case?” he writes.

In an interview with Bethesda Beat, Andrews said local examples of late breaking news in an election cycle include Roger Manno’s 2010 primary victory over Mike Lenett, who was then a state senator representing District 19. In the last few days of that race, Lenett attacked Manno over alleged past financial improprieties. In that case, the effects of early vote turnout were offset due to the fact that Lenett’s attacks were widely condemned by many political observers, including former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan. Manno ultimately won the race by more than 800 votes.

Thirteen states, including Virginia, do not allow early voting. Andrews said another reason to eliminate the practice is to essentially level the playing field for candidates who have less money and name recognition, and who can’t afford to run ads for multiple weeks ahead of an election.

“In California they’re voting now. The candidates need to have their message up for 30 days,” he said.

The prolonged voting period, Andrews said, is a large problem for down-ballot races, such as those for the school board.

“Often, those candidates have less money than candidates further up on the ballot, and they can’t afford to send campaign mailers out three or four weeks before the election,” he said.

[For more information about local candidates, check out Bethesda Beat’s 2018 General Election Voters’ Guide]

Andrews argues against the long-held theory that early voting increases turnout by citing a 2014 study from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows voter turnout was relatively unaffected by early voting, and a 2016 National Public Radio report that cited studies questioning the usefulness of the additional days the polls are open.

“A lot of times people don’t go back and look at how something’s working,” he said.

Nancy Bliss, the president of the League of Women’s Voters of Montgomery County, said she read Andrews’ column with great interest. In general, she said, the organization supports early voting, but it would be willing to consider some of his suggestions such as moving election day to a weekend.

“We as a league would have to study it and come to a consensus to see if this is something we could support. But we are always encouraging methods of making it easier for Montgomery Countians to vote.” Andrews said he is still interested in increasing voter turnout, but thinks a better way to do it would be by moving Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to an entire weekend.

Another key to turnout?

“Competitive elections. High-stakes elections and the ability to register close to the election,” he said.

Those who are interested in voting early can do so from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Oct. 25 through Nov. 1 at one of 11 locations throughout the county. They include:
•Mid-County Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring; 2004 Queensguard Road
•Montgomery County Executive Office Building in Rockville; 101 Monroe Street
•Germantown Community Recreation Center; 18905 Kingsview Road
•Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville; 14906 Old Columbia Pike
•Silver Spring Civic Building; 1 Veterans Place
•Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg; 506 S. Frederick Avenue
•Damascus Community Recreation Center; 25520 Oak Drive
•Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase; 4301 Willow Lane
•St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church in Wheaton; 11801 Claridge Road
•Potomac Community Recreation Center; 11315 Falls Road and the
•Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department; 17921 Brooke Road

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com