Early voting opens its third of nine days today. You’re probably familiar with the process. The elections office puts orange cones 100 ft. from the entrance of the early voting location and then candidates line up in the shady spots near the lines of demarcation waving to cars as potential voters pull in.
A question I’m often asking others rather than getting asked myself is if this strategy is effective.
I have my own opinion, but I’ll close with that.
First, let’s take a broad look at early voting. The idea behind it was to make it as easy as possible for the voter to perform their civic duty. A person can go to any location regardless of where they are registered to vote, the times include two Saturdays and one Sunday as well as everyday until 6 p.m. for those in the traditional 9-5 work schedule and the process does drastically cut down on election day lines.
Yet for all the convenience it provides, early voting is by far the least utilized form of voting in Citrus accounting for just 14.32% of the vote in the 2020 primary, 17.76% in the 2018 primary and 19.81% in 2016. The drastic drop from 2018 to 2020 is understandable with covid, but early voting was on the decline before that as voting by mail became more popular, particularly among Democrats.
Early voting is much more popular among Republicans. So far, 816 of the 1,131 early votes cast have been Republican, which is over 72%. By contrast, vote by mail is closer to just over 50% registered Republicans which is proportional to the overall party affiliation makeup of county voters.
That number ended up being over 77% in 2020 meaning three of every four people to walk into an early voting location was a registered Republican. Though many of our races this cycle including county commission district 4, Florida state house, county judge and school board are open to all voters regardless of their party affiliation, this disproportionate number of Republicans may suggest that these nine days are a critical time for candidates like Stacey Worthington and Diana Finegan who are vying for the Republican nomination in a closed primary.
And so the question persists: does sign waving in front of the polling location change the outcome of someone’s vote? I’m sure there is academic research into it, but I haven’t read any to cite as is my usual approach. Instead, I can only relay qualitative data of what I hear from others rather than quantitative data from social science studies.
A common response is repulsion. Some voters feel intimidated both going into the polls and coming out as candidates eye them looking for the slightest hint of a thumbs up. For consistency sake, I prefer to give every candidate a different finger.
Another common response is that it does not have any effect because people have already made up their mind before they come to vote. This was illustrated on Friday when I asked a candidate I work with, who fully believes in the power of signs in front of the polling precincts, to identify which candidates did not have signs at our location.
This candidate had been there for 10 minutes before voting, a far longer time than just the drive-in that most voters have, and still could not answer the question. The point was not lost on the candidate: their mind was made up so they were immune to any last minute influence.
The only instance of it working happened to me first hand. Someone I was sign waving with in 2018 said, “this candidate has been here every day with us and is truly working hard, I’m going to go vote for him.” This is not the exact same as seeing someone briefly as you park at the polls, but is the closest thing to illustrating the influence working.
Even though it only makes up a fraction of the overall vote and despite its likely limited effectiveness, I still encourage candidates to do it and love going myself.
The political circle is a small one and much less contentious than what you might imagine a zero-sum competition to be. Many people are familiar faces swapping old stories. Some new volunteers share what got them involved. Either way, it’s a great place to build bonds that strengthen a community during a process that could so easily tear them apart.
It’s the best of democracy in action.