Early voting not a bad idea

As these voters at West Ashley High School could tell you, casting a ballot Tuesday was not an easy process. Some people had to wait in line for up to four hours, which is prompting a call to at least study the idea of expanding pre-election voting.

For a lot of folks in Charleston, voting on Tuesday was a nostalgic experience — it kind of reminded them of the old days at the DMV.

People all over town waited upwards of four hours to cast their ballots, and a few of them didn't even have an iPod to keep 'em entertained.

There was no need to remind those people that voting is a right, not a privilege. Not many folks walked away, as some officials feared might happen.

They had their reasons: Some were eager to cast their vote for a certain president-elect, and others were just as eager to cast their vote against him.

For both sides, it appeared to be a pretty big incentive. Besides, it didn't rain.

But it should not be that hard to cast a vote, or take that long. Congressman Jim Clyburn says what's going on here is an "elite" process that disenfranchises a good number of people.

Not everyone can stand to miss half a day of work to vote. They might not get fired, but their pay can still be docked. He notes that voting rules were established when not everyone had the right, or the privilege.

For that reason, Clyburn wants to see early voting in all elections. He's echoing a growing cry among many Democratic-leaning people who believe long lines that keep you from your job amount to a poll tax.

"Why is it," Clyburn asked this week, "that we make democracy so expensive?"

Clyburn thinks that Election Day could be moved to Saturday. Tuesday, he says, was set as the day because of agrarian schedules of the 19th century, and there's no place for plantation politics these days.

As the majority whip in the U.S. House, he's in a position to do something about it, and says he will.

He has a good argument. In states like Colorado, more than half of all people had voted by Tuesday; in Florida, about 40 percent had already cast ballots. The result — no controversy, fewer lines, no hanging chads, and results before Wednesday.

Of course, there's some resistance. There is an old saying that the more people who vote, the more it hurts the Republicans. And guess who runs this state. But, the truth is, that rule does not seem to apply here; just ask Linda Ketner.

Or, for a dissenting opinion, talk to Wallace Scarborough.

The Legislature runs more cold than hot on this. The Republican-controlled Senate has passed early voting legislation, but it is consistently ignored by the Republican-controlled House.

Top GOP officials who are not particularly fond of the idea say they don't want to suppress turnout, they just don't want to add the expense of early voting.

Early voting would, without a doubt, cost more money, and, state Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson argues, is something that affects folks only every two or four years.

Kind of like a hurricane.

"There was some inconvenience, but the system worked," says Dawson. "I stood in line an hour and a half, but I was proud to do it to have my vote counted."

Dawson notes that a lot of people abused the absentee voting laws to create a de-facto early voting program. They signed an affidavit, he says, so "it's on their conscience."

Dawson says he's not crazy about the extra expense of staffing early voting headquarters to keep the polls open as long as three weeks, which Clyburn seems to favor.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell falls somewhere in the middle. He calls four-hour waits to vote "unreasonable," but worries about the integrity of the ballot.

If people vote absentee and then try to show up and vote on Election Day, he wants to make sure they can't cast two ballots.

It's easy enough to stop that, and much cheaper than the other alternative — buying more voting machines. You know, those doohickeys that in some places broke down and slowed the lines even more.

Too bad the iPod folks didn't build our voting machines. Those things seemed to be working just fine on Tuesday.