Early voting? Sure. Last-minute voting? That's for me!

The Baltimore Sun

I'm the person you see at the store on Christmas Eve, buying that last present, or five. Dinner at my house? The starting time, if not the cuisine, is decidedly Continental. And, as my editors will attest, there is no deadline late enough that I can't blow it. So, when I hear "early voting," I think: getting to the polling place while it's still light out.

But this year, even procrastinating Marylanders will face a ballot question asking if they want to start voting as early as two weeks in advance of Election Day.

We're pretty late to this show - more than 30 states already allow some form of it. And this year, with so many people so engaged in the presidential contest, voters are casting early ballots at a record pace - predictions are that as many as one-third of voters will have made their picks by the time Election Day rolls around nine days from now.

It makes sense, on so many levels: Not everyone can find time on a weekday to vote - particularly given the high turnout and voting machine glitches that have created long lines at many polling places in recent years. How would you have felt being one of those voters who didn't get to vote in the close 2004 presidential race in the swing state of Ohio? Getting your vote in early seems like a good way to make sure it gets counted and not lost somehow in some Election Day drama.

While there is some dispute over whether it actually increases turnout - a study some years back concluded that early voters would have voted anyway - surely spreading the voting process out over a longer period of time makes it more convenient to more people. Plus it spreads out the time to fix any problems that crop up, rather than compressing it all in a single day.

So I'll probably vote for it - but perhaps not take advantage of it.

To me, Election Day is one of the great secular holidays. It kind of feels like a Super Bowl of democracy or, in some years, the Opening Day of a new era. I like the air of civic self-satisfaction that pervades the polling places, I even like the I-Voted stickers, and I think I'd like a purple finger even more. I like the idea of setting aside a single day to engage in an act of citizenry.

In these On Demand days, there are fewer and fewer times when the entire country is doing the same thing at the same time. (And, no, the American Idol finale doesn't count.)

I'm lucky to have a schedule flexible enough that it's no big deal to drop in on my polling place at some point during Election Day and vote. Of course, those who claim not to be able to find time to get in line no doubt would find time if it were the line for, say, tickets to an Orioles World Series, to cite a particularly hypothetical scenario.

If anything, this year's presidential campaign has shown that people can and will carve out time to engage in the election. The presidential debates drew tens of millions of viewers, no doubt many like myself who raced through dinner with friends and practically ran the couple of blocks home so as not to miss a single minute of the last one.

I've never seen anything like this - people totally riveted, moment-by-moment, to every twist and turn of the campaign. I don't know how any actual work is getting done, what with all the links being e-mailed around for this YouTube clip or that blog posting. The Web sites I "have" to check seem to grow daily.

I don't know anyone who is still undecided at this point - whoever they are, I wouldn't want to be behind them in a grocery store line as they try to figure out paper or plastic - but surely it's not for lack of available info. Maybe it's just the opposite - there's a surfeit of it. I'm abashed to say that I actually know such things as what Obama's daughters are going to be for Halloween. (For you terribly serious, issues-only thinkers, skip on to the next paragraph; for everyone else: corpse bride and bad fairy.)

So maybe that's part of my reluctance to vote early - separation anxiety from this all-consuming spectacle of a campaign. It would still be going on, but without you.

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