Earlier Than Ever

Oct 20, 2014

Pres. Barack Obama visited Chicago Sunday, to encourage Illinois residents to vote, and to do it early. Early voting begins today, and runs until just before election day. That could change campaigns' strategies, or expand the electorate.

It used to be that campaigns geared up for one day: Election Day. Starting in 2006, Illinois residents were given the option of casting an early, in-person ballot. That used to last for a two-week span. Not this election. Voters have from today until Nov. 2 to vote early.

Look for people to take advantage of it.

Voting expert Mike McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist, says it's a matter of convenience.

"It's difficult for many people to find the time on a Tuesday during a work week to go out and cast their ballot," he said.

McDonald said most of the people who vote right away will have strong partisan beliefs -- and they would have voted anyway.

Which is why McDonald says a longer early voting period doesn't necessarily lead to increased turnout, though it can, if campaigns use the time to mobilize voters who may otherwise skip a midterm election.

"Every voter that they can cross off their list ... are fewer voters that they have to contact. And they can concentrate their resources on turning out the people who are moderate propensity, to low propensity voters."

McDonald says those voters are more likely to make up their minds later on. So, he says, campaigns still have to keep focused on Nov. 4.

For now, it's a one-time experiment. The longer window is just in effect for this election -- a change Republicans say Illinois' majority Democrats pushed at the last minute for political reasons.