JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Election Day is approaching, and you’ve made up your mind. In many states, you now can vote early.
Yet what’s convenient to you is increasingly an opportunity for political gamesmanship to the candidates.
In key swing states, Democrats and Republicans are battling this year to gain even the slightest electoral advantages by tinkering with the times, dates and places where people can vote early. Their sights are set not only on this year’s gubernatorial and congressional campaigns, but on control of the White House after the 2016 elections.
Republican-controlled legislatures in Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin all have taken recent steps to curtail early voting by limiting the days on which it’s available.
Meanwhile, Democratic-led legislatures have passed measures expanding early voting or instant registration in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and Minnesota. And Democratic activists in Missouri are backing an initiative petition that could create one of the nation’s most expansive early voting systems.
The efforts all are born from a shared political assumption.
“For whatever reason, both sides seem to believe that increased early voting will help Democrats and hurt Republicans,” said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
The perception is deeply grounded because of President Barack Obama’s pioneering use of early voting to drive a greater number of Democrats to the polls in his victories in 2008 and 2012.
At least 33 states now have laws that let people vote in-person before elections without needing an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot.
Republicans now are trying to use their control of pivotal state capitols to pare back those early voting laws. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law last year reducing the early voting days from 17 to 10 and eliminating same-day registration. The changes are being challenged by both the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Justice Department, which contends the changes disadvantage blacks who tend to vote early more often.