Super Tuesday flaw shows early voting needs an update

Super Tuesday flaw shows early voting needs an update

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Pity the poor Super Tuesday voters who cast early ballots for Democrats Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar or Tom Steyer. In most cases, those citizens wasted their votes.

It could happen in New York – probably not this year, as it turns out, but in future primaries. It’s a problem that needs attention.

Those early Super Tuesday voters took that chance, of course, though given the evidence of post-election protests, they surely hadn’t accounted for it. Nevertheless, with only a few exceptions, early voting laws simply don’t contemplate the wrinkle caused by candidates who drop out of a race after early voting begins.

But that’s what happened last week with the withdrawals of Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Klobuchar, a sitting senator from Minnesota, and Steyer, a billionaire former hedge fund executive. They ended their presidential campaigns after last Saturday’s South Carolina primary, with Buttigieg and Klobuchar throwing their support to its winner, former Vice President Joe Biden. In California, Texas and other Super Tuesday states, there are no do-overs.

Exceptions may occur in some states where voters mail in an absentee ballot, which offers a different form of early voting. New York allows a version of that. So does Michigan. In both, a voter who beats his ballot to the elections office may ask to have the ballot “spoiled” and then cast a new vote for an existing candidate. Interestingly, Minnesota also allows people to switch votes, but the deadline passed the week before Klobuchar and the others ended their campaigns.

But when an early vote is cast in person, the ballot stands, even if it’s for a candidate who is no longer in the race. It’s not a preposterous policy, given the need to preserve confidence in the legitimacy of the results. Still, the vote is wasted.

New York is one of those states.

Early voting, as distinguished from the absentee variety, was adopted in this state last year in an effort to increase voter turnout. It is done in person and it had a generally successful debut in November’s off-year elections and will be in effect again for this year’s general election, June’s state primaries and, more to the point, next month’s presidential primary.

Only Democrats are running in that race which remains unsettled, despite last week’s surge by Biden. With Thursday’s withdrawal by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Biden and Sanders are the only viable candidates remaining.

Early voting in New York’s primary begins on April 18 and ends April 26, two days before the election. While the possibility of wasted votes here was rendered moot when Warren ended her campaign, the overall problem remains.

For example, what if Warren, who had been reviewing her campaign in the aftermath of her Super Tuesday disappointments, hadn’t made her decision until, say, April 24? In that case, New York’s Democratic voters would have needed to acknowledge the potential for wasted votes. And, of course, it’s not just New York.

Millions of early voters in Super Tuesday states are wishing they had waited until their election day to cast their ballots. At least half of the total ballots in California, Colorado, Texas and Utah were expected to come from early and absentee voting.

In Colorado and Utah and maybe other states, hundreds of those early voters have besieged the Democratic Party, clamoring for the right to recast their votes. They are understandably angry, but they are out of luck.

Some portion of them found, too late, that their vote didn’t count. But the problems go beyond a favored candidate dropping out. Suppose some of those voters cast ballots for Klobuchar, hoping to block Biden, or for Warren, hoping to trip up Sanders. In the end, their vote may have helped the candidate they wanted to curb.

One potential solution to this problem is to allow all early voters, including those casting absentee ballots, to choose more than one candidate – the one they prefer and one or two fall-backs that would be used only if a candidate withdraws before the formal election. It’s called ranked-choice voting, and it’s not new. Putting such a policy in place might require some logistical and technical adjustments, and might never be used except in a presidential primary, but it wouldn’t be unfair and it would encourage confidence in early voting.

It’s unfortunate that this happened to Super Tuesday voters, especially this year, when interest is running at fever pitch. But the 2024 election may be similarly compelling and, even it it’s not, Super Tuesday has exposed a grievous flaw in the system. It’s one that can be fixed, so let’s fix it.

Critical primary dates

Here are some critical dates related to the April 28 presidential primary, according to the New York State Board of Elections:

VOTER REGISTRATION

April 3: Last day to postmark application; must be received no later than April 8 by the local Board of Elections. Also last day for in-person registration.

 April 8: Change of address deadline.

ABSENTEE VOTING

April 21: Last day to postmark application for a ballot.

April 27: Last day to apply in person for a ballot. Also last day to postmark mail-in ballot, which must be received by the local Board of Elections no later than May 5.

April 28: Last day to deliver ballot in person to Board of Elections.

MILITARY/SPECIAL FEDERAL VOTERS

April 3: Last day for a Board of Elections to receive application for ballot if not previously registered.

April 21: Last day for a Board of Elections to receive an application if previously registered.

April 27: Last day to apply personally if previously registered. Also last day to postmark ballot, which must be received by the Board of Elections no later than May 5.

EARLY VOTING

March 16: Last day to designate early voting polling places, and their hours of operation for the presidential primary election.

April 18-26: Days of early voting for the presidential primary election.

April 28: Presidential primary election date.

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