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Published: Tuesday, 10/6/2009

Drive-thru democracy trend comes at a big price

BY ROBERTA DE BOER
BLADE COLUMNIST

The Lucas County Board of Elections new off-site center on Jefferson Avenue earlier this week made me think back to the Ohio primary.

For one of his rallies, Barack Obama s campaign distributed free tickets at a downtown convenience store located just across the boulevard from the elections board.

Setting up shop just a stone s throw from where any eligible soul could go register to vote (certainly what every ticket-fetcher was exhorted to do) was a shrewd tactic in the campaign s get-out-the-vote strategy.

But reading about Lucas County s new voting center, where ballots are already being cast, I was surprised by my own misgivings. Something about Ohio s new voting provision gives me pause.

Granted, I say this as someone who never waited in dysfunctionally long lines to vote, or was ever turned away.

And my polling place has always opened on time, been stocked sufficiently, and, to the best of my knowledge, functioned smoothly.

But I also say this as someone who spent 17 years going off to vote accompanied by my daughter, a practice that became a family tradition.

By the time she reached voting age, it was an article of faith that every few years American citizens must must go somewhere and help decide who runs the place and what issues are important. And yes, there s homework.

I m not convinced early voting is a wholly bad idea, but I am stubbing my philosophical toe. My misgivings have less to do with the 2008 race and more to do with our idea of community, of civic duty.

In a country that covers some 3.6 million square miles and four time zones, a country with regional differences, dialects, and customs, is it so much to ask that we literally come together (hanging chads, etc., notwithstanding) once every few years?

Well, maybe so. The Campaigns & Elections Web site points to estimates that at least 35 percent of Ohio voters might cast early ballots.

The Blade s story yesterday about local early voting included a 19-year-old guy who said he d planned to vote for Mr. Obama in November, but decided to do it Tuesday instead after a group of bused-in university students marched past him.

Well, OK.

On the one hand, here s a guy who voted, all right. On the other hand, excuse me, but here s a guy (despite saying he already knew his candidate) whose vote ends up sounding like some kind of impulse buy.

The presidency as loss leader?

While I appreciate anybody or anything that helps make life more convenient these days, there is something about no-excuse early voting that carries the faint sniff of drive-thru democracy.

(And, OK, yes: While we re at it, a tip of the hat to moving Election Day to a Saturday, making it a national holiday, or doing something to make it easier for workaday people with kids and other obligations to get to the polls.)

Is something important at risk of getting lost in Ohio s newest voting provision?

Personally, I ll wait for the October Surprise.



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