Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Have you cast your ballot yet (either “yea” or “nea”) for Barack Obama?

With nearly 20,000 people in Cook County alone taking the initiative Monday to cast their ballots for Campaign ’08, I’m starting to wonder if the day will come when Election Day will become obsolete.

It’s true.

CHICAGO BOARD OF Elections Commissioners officials said 11,748 people showed up to cast ballots on the first day that absentee ballots could be cast in the city. Meanwhile, the Cook County Clerk’s office noted 7,689 people who live in the inner Chicago suburbs have already cast their ballots for the Nov. 4 elections.

Could it be that in our evolving culture where people no longer want to buy hard copies of records (preferring downloads for the iPod), where some prefer to shop online rather than go to the supermarket and where some NEVER watch television programs at their scheduled times (preferring to TiVO them), the day will also come when people won’t want to have to wait until a specified day to go to a specified place to cast their votes?

I can’t help but think that is what is at stake with this trend, as Cook County (both Chicago city and suburban) set records for the number of people who showed up to take advantage of the first day of early voting.

In a way, it lets people pick the day on which they show up to cast a vote – making it more easy to fit such an act into their personal schedule.

I’M SURE THERE also are some people who resent the idea that in the past, they had to make their choice on one day. This may seem like a bit of freedom for them.

But I’m wondering what will be lost. For I’m going to have to admit that I’m a political geek who finds the whole Election Day routine to be fascinating.

Now I know I am lucky enough to have a type of work with flexible enough hours (and where the most significant Election Day work is done after dark) that I can usually find some time in the middle of the morning to show up at my polling place – which doubles as a Lutheran Church recreation room the rest of the year.

So Election Day is not as much an inconvenience for me as it is for those who have to wake up early to show up when the polling place opens at 6 a.m. – or else they lose any chance of having time to cast a ballot.

BUT I LIKE the idea of having a day when the community (or at least the portion that is interested enough to cast a ballot) comes together for a single purpose related to picking the people who perform “the people’s business.”

I actually get a kick out of watching for any potential acts of “electioneering” – efforts to get so close to the entrance of the polling place that one’s vote can be influenced. Heck, I even enjoy trying to evade the people collecting data for the exit polls (I don’t go so far as to follow the late columnist Mike Royko’s advice – he thought we should lie to them about who we vote for).

I actually think we will be losing something if elections for federal, state and municipal office become something that get conducted over a two-week period, with people showing up at all odd hours, as though casting a ballot for president of the United States were just another errand to be run in between picking up a gallon of milk and making a trip to the post office.

But I realize this is going to happen, and I’m sure the intense interest in this year’s elections will get many more people to try casting a vote early – just to see if they like it. It also helps that those people who have been so personally negligent that they were not yet registered to vote (the deadline was last week) could still register, if they were prepared to cast their votes for Nov. 4 immediately.

ALSO, LET’S NOT forget the “native son” aspect of Democrat Barack Obama’s candidacy. Even though Republican opponent John McCain wants to believe that Obama’s Chicago ties are a negative, it will result in him taking the overwhelming number of votes in Illinois.

I can’t help but wonder how many of the 19,000-plus votes cast on Monday will wind up going to Obama. How much of a lead does he already have in Illinois even before Election Day arrives?

Heck, it could be a statewide trend. North suburban Lake County had 2,532 people cast ballots on Monday – which was four times the number of people who cast early ballots on the first day that people could do so for the 2004 general election cycle, although officials said they expect Monday’s ballot totals to be higher than that of any other day on which people can cast ballots early – a time period that runs through Oct. 30.

After all, it was Columbus Day, which means some people (particularly those who work on state or federal government payrolls) had the day off. I suppose showing up at any of 44 village halls in the suburbs (or the county courthouses or clerk’s office in downtown Chicago) was as useful a way to spend the day then any other.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Early voting is not just a concept for the Chicago area. Election boards are experimenting ( with the idea of allowing people to cast their ballots in advance of the Nov. 4 general elections.

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is openly focusing attention on persuading people to ( cast their ballots for him a little bit early. So naturally, some people on the right are starting to see the idea of early voting ( as a way of stealing an Election Day ( victory from John McCain.

I’m not alone in thinking that something would be lost if we gave up altogether on the ( concept of a single day for Election Day.