Early Voting: A Tough Call

By Beacon Staff

Nobody likes waiting in line. So here we are again, faced with the same election season decision: Vote early and avoid the long lines, or get the full voting experience and wait until Nov. 4? This year, absentee voting is through the roof in Montana, already shattering records with Election Day still a week away. The same is happening in many other states. Early voting makes sense for a lot of people, and for others it’s necessary. But those who vote early miss out on the entire experience, especially in small towns. It’s up to each individual person to decide whether the time saved is worth the experience missed.

I remember my first time voting. It was at the Park County Fairgrounds in Livingston. Standing in line next to hoards of other voters, many who I knew, I couldn’t help but feel I had a purpose, like I was part of something necessary and good. I’m sure there would have been hints of that same feeling if I had cast an absentee vote or walked over to the election office a week ahead of time. But it surely would not have been the same experience.

With that in mind, I still have never voted early, though each year I tell myself I’m getting too busy – that I don’t have time for lines. This is partly true, but probably a copout nonetheless.

My friend Scott McMillion, a former reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and a fine writer, wrote an essay about the pleasures of voting in small towns. The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer picked up on the piece and asked McMillion to read it as a narrative on camera. The essay captures that hard-to-explain phenomenon of voting in small towns.

Yet with all of this said, here I am again trying to decide how much my time is worth. The election office is just down the street. Within 15 minutes, I could have my civic duty wrapped up. But I won’t bump into anybody I know. I’ll feel relieved, but maybe not completely satisfied. I guess making hard decisions is what this time of year is all about.

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