Sixty long days separated Friday from Nov. 3, but mail ballots for the election are already getting en route. Officials in North Carolina were set to start sending outgoing absentee ballots on Friday, with Alabama to follow next week. Roughly half of the states are set to ship mail ballots this month, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
Early in-person voting also isn’t far off: Sept. 18 in Minnesota and Virginia, Sept. 24 in Michigan. Doesn’t that seem a little . . . early? Donald Trump and Joe Biden are scheduled to collide during three presidential debates, but the first won’t be held until Sept. 29, and the last is on the calendar for Oct. 22. Many people might say they’ve made up their minds about Mr. Trump, or Mr. Biden, or both. But surely there’s something that one of these guys could say on live TV to create voter regret.
So much, too, for an “October surprise.” The campaign four years ago was rocked by the publication of Mr. Trump’s lewd remarks on that 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape. The story broke on Oct. 7. By that date this year, millions of people might have voted. In North Carolina, at least, once a mail ballot is cast, there’s no way for the voter to change his mind. All sales are final.
Or what about possible health issues? Mr. Biden is 77 and Mr. Trump is 74. No presidential nominee has ever been replaced, and we hope that record holds. But even outside a pandemic, it isn’t inconceivable. If it were required, the national political party would pick a new candidate. Would Democrats default to Mr. Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris? Would they throw to the runner-up in their presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders? Would they mobilize a noncombatant like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo?
There are good reasons for a country to have a fixed, concentrated period of voting, with finite absentee options for people who can’t make it. Extra leeway is needed this year, especially for seniors, given the profiles of coronavirus victims. Mail voters should absolutely heed the U.S. Postal Service’s warning to allow seven days for their ballots to be delivered.
But almost 60 days? Advocates of broadening ballot access, as usual, seem to recognize no limiting principle. The old joke is that Election Day has turned into Election Month. At this point, it’s more than halfway to Election Quarter, or longer once the counting starts.
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Appeared in the September 5, 2020, print edition.
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