In the last decade, the popularity of what we call absentee voting has transformed campaigns.
When virtually everyone voted on Election Day, the task was simple for candidates and their advisors. All they needed to do was devise a strategy that made sure their campaigns peaked on Election Day.
Now they have to run continuous campaigns, or what some describe as two campaigns – one that peaks four weeks prior to the election and another that peaks on Election Day. With each of these campaigns, they reach out to roughly half the voters.
Two campaigns cost more money – and they force candidates to manage their time and their messages in different ways. But they are what is necessary to be competitive.
These days, many voters are not “absent” from home on Election Day – the original reason for absentee ballots – but they’ve already voted anyway. More than half of Sonoma County voters are permanent absentee voters, elections chief Janice Atkinson told me last week. The county routinely ranks among the highest in the state in percentage of votes cast by mail.
On May 10, absentee balloting began – and now the pace accelerates. In conversations, we hear people say, “Yeah, I voted already.”
For voters who prefer to vote on Election Day, the task becomes more complicated. There are fewer polling places now, and fewer people willing to volunteer as poll workers. Given the high cost, it’s not difficult to imagine the day in which California votes entirely by mail. Oregon already votes by mail.
Mindful that more people vote early, news organizations have to change their approach as well. It no longer make sense to concentrate campaign reporting into the last two weeks before the election.
BTW, I’ve written seven election-related columns in recent weeks. If you want to read them, here are the links: