Since Oregon pioneered its vote-by-mail system a decade ago—allowing people to vote before Election Day—other states have increasingly adopted their own early voting systems.
And this year, for the first time, says local early voting expert Paul Gronke, the trend of states loosening absentee-ballot requirements and allowing residents to vote early by dropping off ballots is significantly affecting the presidential primaries.
Was there any voter's remorse, for example, when Californians could vote for John Edwards as early as Jan. 7 in the state's Feb. 5 Democratic primary, only to learn Jan. 30 that the former U.S. senator was dropping out of the race? And would more Californians have voted for Sen. Barack Obama if they had waited to cast their votes after his campaign had caught fire?
Those questions and others have attracted enough national media attention to transform Gronke—chairman of Reed College's political science department and director of the Early Voting Information Center—from a mere academic into a minor media superstar.
In the past nine months, Gronke has made five appearances in The New York Times, and been picked up by National Public Radio, Fox News, The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post, among others.
Gronke, who founded the early voting center in 2005, says early voting "represents a fundamental change in the way we cast ballots, which is itself the most fundamental element of democratic citizenship." "I used to see people coming in and enjoying this civic ritual with their friends and neighbors, and I think we've lost some of that," he adds.
To learn more about early voting, we put Gronke through a true-or-false quiz. Here are his answers, with his commentary.
Early voting has helped better-funded candidates.
It helps them because they can use their cash edge to get information about early voters that allows them to target their mobilization efforts, and to better use their remaining funds.
Early voting distorts media coverage, since early votes don't factor for exit polls.
Most good polling organizations now conduct "absentee" voter polls.
Early voting drives up voter turnout.
It has a small but not insignificant effect on turnout, around 2 percent to 5 percent. Election officials love early voting because it takes the pressure off Election Day.
Oregon pioneered early voting with its mail-in ballot system, which is now used in most of Washington.
We are a national leader, both in implementing the system, and in working out the administrative kinks. We have one of the best election administration systems in the country. And it helps that we have one of the best local postal services (Gronke says he was told this by a regional officer of the U.S. Postal Service).
You have never voted early.
I vote almost immediately after getting the ballot so those annoying partisans will stop calling me!
You've become a minor media superstar for national reporters looking for information on
About 26 percent of all votes cast in the 2008 primaries will be cast early, compared with 20 percent in 2004.
In Oregon, ballots for the May 20 primary will be mailed to voters around May 2.