Maybe Long Campaigns Aren't So Bad

Dear Stumped:

What has this campaign season taught you about the process that you didn't already know?

Oliver Hughes

Dear Oliver:

Good question. I think a lot of people will be readjusting their attitudes toward campaign finance after this one. Barack Obama's coffers are overflowing to a degree never before imagined. Yet his enthusiastic donors are the same people who once claimed that money -- especially large-scale fundraising -- corrupts candidates and the political process. What happens to the push for publicly financed campaigns in the aftermath of the Obama juggernaut?

I have always been wary of efforts to curb political spending on First Amendment grounds, so this election hasn't changed my mind on that. The belief that this election calls into question involves a far more basic issue: the duration of the campaign.

I have long maintained that our presidential campaigns last too long. For all intents and purposes, Obama and McCain will have spent two full years doing nothing but campaigning for the presidency, and in the past that struck me as absurd.

Such a lengthy, grueling process makes running for president an exceedingly costly proposition, in personal as well as financial terms. It must deter impressive individuals from considering the presidency -- people who don't want to spend two years pandering and groveling for money on a daily basis. And because there is so much dead time to be filled during a long campaign, the campaign's length is one of the reasons we have the "luxury" to devote days, if not weeks, to silly, peripheral issues.

The protracted campaign season also deadens voter interest; the notion of a presidential campaign being a special time requiring our attention is undermined by the fact that it drones on for years. My son would be less excited about Halloween if I'd been talking to him about it every day since April.

Lastly, forcing candidates to spend two years on the road wooing voters is a way of guaranteeing that our presidents are thoroughly burnt out by the time they are sworn into office.

All that said, this campaign season gives me pause. The marathon leading up to next week's vote has served its purpose: It revealed the candidates' characters and readiness for office.

Obama may be the less experienced candidate, but he has shown far more gravitas and grace under pressure (not to mention managerial skill) than his primary opponents and John McCain. Meanwhile, McCain has proven himself to be a gambling, swashbuckling, instinctive and impatient maverick. His campaign hoped we'd pick up on some of these traits, but it can't seem to sell us on the idea that these are the traits we want in our president.

The Arizona senator doesn't have the stamina for this, and I am not sure that would have been clear in a more compressed election cycle. I don't mean physical age-related stamina (kudos to him on that front), but rather the emotional, intellectual stamina required to lay out a vision of what you want to accomplish and run a campaign that adheres to that vision, regardless of what your opponents and the real world throw your way.

There is a lot to admire about McCain, and if the American people were hiring a fighter pilot to undertake daring bombing missions over enemy capitals, we could all agree that he would be a far better hire than Obama. But it is Obama who is better suited, as a matter of temperament, to be the leader who answers that 3 a.m. phone call Hillary Clinton brought to our attention and who decides whether to order the John McCains of the world to go into battle.

And I am afraid it took this absurdly long campaign to make that crystal clear.

Dear Stumped:

This is the first election that I have noticed such widespread "early voting." Doesn't the Constitution clearly state that Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November? How can "early voting" be legal? Has this been tested in the Courts?

Stephen Brady

Dear Stephen:

The Constitution does not say anything about voting on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. What it does say is that "Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes, which day shall be the same throughout the United States." As early as 1792, Congress elected the first Wednesday in December as the date on which electors chosen by each state would cast their votes, and it provided states a 34-day window leading up to that date to pick their electors. Only in 1845 did Congress pass a law establishing the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November as the date on which states would pick their electors. But let's be clear: The constitutional mandate for voting on a single day doesn't cover what you and I do in the voting booth next week; it covers the subsequent casting of votes by the electors in the Electoral College.

This history and the reminder that our presidential election is technically a two-step process -- we vote for electors, and they choose the president -- help explain why "Election Day" is less sacrosanct than you would think. Many states, as you note, have long provided for absentee balloting, and the more recent trend has been to allow for convenient no-questions-asked early voting. In Oregon and Washington, people vote by mail. The trend to make participation ever more convenient is partly a response to low turnout rates across the country and the fact that holding an election on a workday is inconvenient for many people.

There have been court battles involving early voting and election procedures, but as there is no federal ban on early voting, most challenges invoke state constitutions, as our Maryland readers well know. In 2006, a state judge voided that state's early voting law, holding that it violated the state constitution. Next week, the people of Maryland will vote on a ballot measure to amend the state constitution and allow for early voting.

I am a usually a fan of greater convenience, but when it comes to voting, I am not a fan of the early voting mania. It seems strange to allow voters to cast ballots weeks before a campaign's closing arguments are made, when new information can still come out about candidates. And while it may not be constitutionally sacrosanct, I like the civic value of all Americans sharing one "Election Day."

By Andres Martinez |  October 28, 2008; 12:00 AM ET
Previous: Worried About the Crazies | Next: Why Can People Without ID's, and Ted Stevens, Vote?


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A country that has developed technoligical marvels from space travel to artificial organ transplants, miracle DNA based medications,personal identification by eye scans.can't figure out how to invent a simple decent computerized electronic voting system better than 1950 IBM punch cards or even more barbaric techniques,
This is incompetence at its utmost. I suspect the 1800 era methods used by some states are antiquated intentionally. The squander millions on BS local 'beautification' projects, but can't spend a dime on 1970's computer technology to insure far less corruption.

Something tells me this is intentional. Its not just the usual incompetence of moronic or corrupt or both politicians, I believe it enables them to violate laws with impunity and with no way to recheck accurately. In a 1960's world, the technology was good enough to solve these problems easily. Why leave a system open to inaccuracy and corruption? I think the SOBs like it that way. Then they can claim foul aqnd get the results. Wahington State votesd everywhere except King County (Seattle area by mail.) Why? the usual, leave lots of toom for corruption so we can rig the election.

Everyone vote needs to be counted. Yea sure. Then why can you recount the ballots, the most corrupt way, by having 'impartial' people count the,. Its like using a pick axe to do brain surgery kind of like Stalin's did to Trotsky in Mexico. Yeah, I really trust my government.They throw money down the tolette on museums the states or communities should pay for, but 20th century technology for counting ballots, Nay its too expensive. We like corruption after all.

And people wants these type of incompetent imbeciles to run the medical system > More corses than survivors I'm afraid. Bit its free! You generally get what you pay for. Not much good is 'free'.

Posted by: KRittenmyer | October 31, 2008 3:50 AM

I'm with 'meyersdonihoo'--why don't we change to a national voting day on the weekend??
I can imagine much higher turnout, with people voting evenly all day, not coming in waves at noon and after work, resulting in long lines and discouragement. A weekend vote would be more festive, a celebration of democracy, not jammed into a harried workday to the disadvantage of those with the least flexible job hours.

Posted by: Liza3 | October 28, 2008 7:09 PM

In response to walker1's claim that the military supports Obama over McCain my a ratio of 6 to 1....I'd like to see YOUR proof...

Here's mine, that they support McCain, in every aspect accept when polling strictly black military (no shock there)...

Posted by: boosterprez | October 28, 2008 7:00 PM

If you cannot make up your mind 30 days out and after enduring nearly 2 years of election Hades, then maybe you just should not vote and instead stay home.

To do away with early voting would mean holding elections on a day where nobody but poll workers worked. We would need at least triple the polling stations and maybe double the machines at each station.

Not that you asked, but I would like to see the primary campaign limited to 60 days where everyone votes on the same day and the main election 30 days after the primary.

Here too if you cannot make and state your case in 60 days, you should not run. If you cannot state your case in 30 why you should be the one, you should not run.

Posted by: skramsv | October 28, 2008 3:30 PM

Opposed to early voting?

Funny that the chief opposition to early voting was so obviously self serving. Just imagine how much better off we would be if the media lost it's power to interject trivia disguised as late breaking information into our elections. The idea that early vote circumvents this power is proof of the media abuse of the first amendment and by abuse I mean the lack of responsible journalism. The bottom line is that early voting gives voters who have already received enough information to make up their mind. How selfish is it to lament that voters have that ability when you know very well that the only kind of last minute information that can derail a campaign is likely to be old, personal, and while interesting to the media's inner Rona Barret, it is unlikely to provide any insight about a candidate's ability to govern effectively.

Posted by: wiseone1 | October 28, 2008 3:14 PM

Voting early, to me, is very foolish. there is always the possibility that a candidate may do or say something that might change your mind & there is nothing you can do about it. I didn't mind the long battle. It gave me a chance to learn things that I was unaware of earlier.
I do, however, object to all these Senators getting paid for not doing their jobs in the Senate.I think that they should refund the government for their salaries, from their campaign funds.
I would also like to make a statement regarding Obama's "grace under pressure".
Since he was ordained to be "the" candidate, Obama has certainly shown an easy, unflappable manner. I remember a different candidate when he was losing. In the debates, when an opponent spoke & showed Obama to be wrong, his jaw clenched.
When Hillary won a primary, he did not congratulate her, he snidely remarked, "She won but I got more delegates." [ a total of 1 more delegate] He made a tape, in Spanish. Hillary was furious & said, "that tape is insulting!" He never apologized. He turned his back on her at the State of the Union Speech. Why? He never apologized to her.He accused her of being the cause of B'hutto's death in a tape shown on the Wolf Blitzer show, Dec. 27th. The tape was removed from the transcript but Tim Russert knew of it. He asked Obama, the following week, if he believed this statement. Obama, chuckling, admitted that he did not. No apology was given, as told by Hillary when she guested with Russert the next week.While having a speech taped for showing on TV, in Ohio, Obama jumped on the stage, interrupting her so that the cameras were turned to him. He spoke for 46 minutes, leaving the camera crews no time to finish with Hillary. [This was reported by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post.] All 3 TV news channels played his tape in its entirety. CNN played only 5 minutes of the 7 minutes they got of her speech. Obama is not unflappable. He is nasty when angry. I would much rather have a man who spouted his anger & got over it than have someone who keeps his anger in & displays it later, with vengence! How will Obama react if Congress does not do as he wants? Or, if a foreign leader complained of his actions? I don't really want to find out the answer.

Posted by: afed27 | October 28, 2008 2:36 PM


As an overseas voter, I appreciate knowing that my vote is already in there.

One concern I have for the 'only one day' system is that it is incentive for nefarious sorts to want to make some giant gesture, or cause some enormous disruption just before the 'big day' in order to upset the vote. With early voting, the motivation to create this kind of havoc diminishes somewhat. (and not all the voters will be affected)

(I'm just concerned about how many more other 'backwards B' girl type of people there still are out there poised to do their craziness on Nov 2nd or 3rd.)

Posted by: allanwest | October 28, 2008 12:34 PM

I live overseas, so I mailed in my vote a couple of weeks ago. When I come back, I'll certainly continue early voting. Considering all the Republicans do to disenfranchise voters, early voting is one way to ensure you know they're trying to remove you early enough to fight them. In addition, as Florida showed two years ago, registrars can set automatic voting machines so that Republican voting areas have warnings about incorrect votes so they can fix them, while Democratic areas are set to accept invalid votes so the voter leaves and the votes are thrown out when counted.

Of course, being a techie, just knowing the fact that Diebold is a heavy Republican contributor who won't put his code in an open trust is another sign of problems, but one that isn't solved by early voting.

Early voting has many advantages in improving the democratic process. It's one reason Republicans are fighting it.

Posted by: groucho42 | October 28, 2008 11:41 AM

When you say, "And while it may not be constitutionally sacrosanct, I like the civic value of all Americans sharing one "Election Day," I am stumped. What is valuable about standing in long lines for minorites and short lines for whites? Furthermore, once you are in the booth you are not "sharing" anything with anyone else. As a former member of the military I began absentee voting in order to fulfill my civic duty. Now I couldn't imagine a better way to share with my fellow citizens than to get together around a table and thoughtfully go over our ballots and complete them with open discussion about every issue. And in Colorado, that means spending a considerable amount of time with my friends and neighbors because our ballots took well over an hour to complete. Rather than stand out in the elements on election day we will gather together inside and watch the results come in. Reshape your ideas of community.

Posted by: awall1 | October 28, 2008 11:06 AM

One of the problems with this long campaign is that it takes 2 senators out of the senate just when they are most needed.

Posted by: susanr9999 | October 28, 2008 10:59 AM

Mr. Martinez, you are the second WaPo person I've seen who objects to early voting, citing some kind of nostalgia for the commonality of civic experience on one consecrated day. My cynical heart tells me otherwise. I get no happy feelings by standing in line for hours with other people.

Frankly, there are many of us who made our minds up long ago. Why not go ahead and cast the vote now? I did in September, as Georgia allows you to request a paper absentee ballot 180 days before an election. The "closing arguments" line is a crock of B.S. to me because so many of us on either side made our decisions -- probably on the day our candidate announced that he or she was running for president.

Perhaps you folks don't like it because it makes your jobs harder, and those instapolls on voting day might prove to be wrong on each state.

Posted by: jscraig81 | October 28, 2008 10:51 AM

I still think that the campaign season is too long. I still believe that it should start after Labor Day and end the day before election day. Even an abbreviated primary season would be helpful.

Of course, this election cycle was very different for one primary reason: Bush. With negative performance ratings above 50% for three years, people wanted to move on to a new President three years ago.

Some of the characteristics about each candidate would have been learned in a shortened campaign season. Major flaws would have less time to be studied to death.

Campaign finance reform needs to be revisited. At least Barack stressed small contributions with no obligation on the treasury. Most know why the McCain campaign took the Federal funds.

One week to go. Ridiculous TV ads are appearing now by those 527 groups, most of which support McCain. The utter lies are astonishing. It is like swift-boat politics are here to stay unless this type of campaigning is eliminated, which it should be.

Posted by: EarlC | October 28, 2008 10:48 AM

What is amazing to me is the number of anti-intellects, which includes racism, in my country that will vote for McCain. The notion that people vote their pocketbook is obviously not the truth; but they do profess FREEDOM!
Americans that have witnessed their own decline in personal wealth would still vote for the continuation of the same policies that have caused the disparity between rich and poor in the United States of America is amazing.
The statistics of education in my country, decline.
The statistics of healthcare coverage in my country decline. (Although the cost has increased)
The cost of the on-going invasion of Iraq ignored and the shortage of troops, ignored. Where will the next generation of troops come from?
Do the anti-intellects in my country that will vote for McCain even care to think about any of these issues?
If they are 'one issue voters', I still am not convinced and am troubled if this is their answer. I find this argument difficult to understand or believe. If you ask these ‘one issue voters’ what they think of the Middle East with theocratic styles of government, they are the first to denounce it. They are the first to advocate anti-Taliban, anti-Islamic rule while they promote FREEDOM! Yet they want to push their religious beliefs here in America, my country. Do they believe in the Constitution? Are they even patriotic? Do they believe in the separation of church and state? Do they understand why this amendment is in my Constitution, their Constitution? Do they even know what the Constitution is? I guess that would be the more important and revealing question when answered.

Posted by: sasha2008 | October 28, 2008 10:13 AM

McCain has crashed a total of 5 planes.

So I guess he's experienced at that.

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | October 28, 2008 10:09 AM

In reply to Mr. Salas | October 28, 2008 9:30 AM: ".....on past election nights,the public used to have the right to a near real-time account of the ballot count."

Sir, in my opinion the real-time count to which you refer is media hype, just another cock-eyed reality show, although in this instance a mockery of a very important process of real consequence.

The law requires that such accounts not be broadcast from an earlier time (Eastern) zone to other time zone. However, Florida is in two time zones, and the "Reds" get on the phones to other time zones, as do the "Blues."

The only "REAL TIME" we should have is plenty of time to vote, meaning Early Voting, PLUS a single 24-hour period final election day: from the same moment to the same moment throughout all 50 states, no matter the time zone, followed by a single real-time accounting for all the early votes as well as those cast on the final 24-hour election "Day."

Posted by: MOCHNI-TalkingBird | October 28, 2008 10:03 AM

The endless campaign season rewards candidates best able to handle the mechanics of election campaigns. The people who see it as a test of character or fitness for office are likewise mostly people largely ignorant of government and deeply engaged in following election campaigns.

In his day, Richard Nixon was by far the ablest politician in America as far as the mechanics of electoral politics were concerned. His electionc campaigns turned out not to reveal that much about his character after all. This year, we may find out after all that an election campaign that has presented Sen. Obama with few occasions calling for him to make a really unpopular decision under pressure was not that great an indicator of whether he would be able to do this as President.

Posted by: jbritt3 | October 28, 2008 10:01 AM

I agree that our election process is entirely too long. Off the top of my head I know of no country that has campaigning like that of the United States. The primaries run for too long a time and are more of a show then actually being democratic. Really do we need fifty different state primaries, with each state fighting to be first? Look what happened to Florida and Michigan. Think about the cost in money, carbon footprints and the candidate’s emotions and family life. If you want to have a primary make it one for each party. Each candidate would put his or hat in the ring in October, and then campaign until February 1, at this time there would be an election,for two weeks (including Saturday and Sunday). The candidate that wins for each party, including third parties would run a campaign until November 1. A state again would run an election for two weeks (including Saturday and Sunday). I think a candidate should be able to show fitness in that period of time. Furthermore all campaigns should be fully funded by the government, with each candidate receiving equal financing. News media would be required to give free equal time as part of the privilege of acquiring their license. The candidates would be required to inform the citizenry of their positions on all issues clearly and distinctly. Any information presented to the public would be covered by federal and state liable laws. If they can not tell the truth or be civil then they should suffer the consequences. Freedom of speech does give a right to lie, mislead or wrongly label a person. We need to streamline our election process and bring civility to the process.

Posted by: MyVoice3 | October 28, 2008 9:59 AM

Preventing voting early would prevent front line troops from voting.

In Reply to josephjsalas


And of course the Obama campaign published his birth certificate on its own website long ago.

You are busted josephjsalas.

I looked on McCains website but I can not find McCain's Birth Certificate there?

Why does McCain refuse to make his Birth Certificate available?

What is McCain hiding?

Where is mcCain's birth certificate because there are rumours he is not American and was adopted in Panama?


Getting back to the matter of the right of US Front Line Troops to vote.

There is a Republican myth that the majority of troops support McCain.

It is a bald faced lie, and the massive amount of money that US troops have given to the Obama campaign, outstripping McCain by more than 6 to 1 points this out.

When you look at serving US soldiers they are predominatly suporters of the Democratic Party.

The Republicans often include draft dodgers like Cheney when they say military; their excuse is that Cheney's company makes parts for plumbing used in millitary bases.

That the likes of Cheney's company support the GOP is not surprising seeing how much money meant for US soldiers got switched to commie GOP companies sucking on the US Tax Tit.

So much money has been switched that billions of dollars meant for the support of US troops is now unacounted for. The commie GOP even put unqualified children in charge of the accounts, their only qualification; were that they were GOP cronies.

The GOP attempts to prevent absentee ballots being cast is another indication how much the McCain camp fear front line US troops.

Why are is your GOP trying to prevent Frontline US troops voting?

There is no excuse for George Bush and the Ohio GOP to question US troops right to vote, just because they are in Iraq and Afghanistan and their records on a few databases no longer match up!

Support US Front Line Troops.
Vote Obama/Biden 08 *****

Posted by: walker1 | October 28, 2008 9:52 AM

Obama's being born in Kenya has been known
for a few months now. This also helps
explain the high level of early voting.

And besides. On past election nights,
the public used to have the right to
a near real-time account of the ballot

But this election day/night has been
spanned over a few weeks. Maybe the
votes have not been counted. But crucial
voting information/education has been
sequestered from the public. And the public has a right to track, in near real time, the vote count.

Until Obama produces a birth certificate
to the public, for obvious reasons,
and again, crucial information of the
highest national significance is being
omitted from the voting process.

And by the way. He has "some" form of
I.D., doesn't he? And if so. How
did he get it?

Posted by: josephjsalas | October 28, 2008 9:30 AM

The idiots on the your first page saying that God is first in America are truly psycotic. They love God, abhor abortion, but love to kill people from any nation that disagrees with our policies.
I'm sure that God will deal with these people in a very special way, lets say damnation because of their hypocrisy and delusions that America is better than all other nations.
Everyone who feels this way should go to Iraq and fight, our intrusion into Syria's airspace is a prelude to what is coming when the surrounding nations have had enough of our meddling. Syria has 5000 tanks and a huge military. Russia is poised to the north and is helping Iran install state of the art SAMS; we will no longer enjoy air control there.
These misguided Americans should go back and read their bibles more and shut up about America being superior, these words will be shoved down their throats.
Our military is so depleted by 7 years of war that they are now letting felons into the military and anyone who can sign their name for 20 grand.
The woman who says her husband has served in the military for twenty-six years and is proud to be a Christian serves two masters and we all know what the outcome of that will be.

Posted by: tomkat1 | October 28, 2008 9:17 AM

The idiots on the your first page saying that God is first in America are truly psycotic. They love God, abhor abortion, but love to kill people from any nation that disagrees with our policies.
I'm sure that God will deal with these people in a very special way, lets say damnation because of their hypocrisy and delusions that America is better than all other nations.
Everyone who feels this way should go to Iraq and fight, our intrusion into Syria's airspace is a prelude to what is coming when the surrounding nations have had enough of our meddling. Syria has 5000 tanks and a huge military. Russia is poised to the north and is helping Iran install state of the art SAMS; we will no longer enjoy air control there.
These misguided Americans should go back and read their bibles more and shut up about America being superior, these words will be shoved down their throats.
Our military is so depleted by 7 years of war that they are now letting felons into the military and anyone who can sign their name for 20 grand.
The woman who says her husband has served in the military for twenty-six years and is proud to be a Christian serves two masters and we all know what the outcome of that will be.

Posted by: tomkat1 | October 28, 2008 9:10 AM

In response to your last point; John McCain crashed three aircraft before ever being in a combat situation. I believe they were all determined to be "pilot error". John McCain was not a good pilot. If his Dad was not an Admiral, I believe he would have been grounded. Obama, on the other hand ,with training, may well have been a good pilot. We don't know. We do know that McCain was not.

Posted by: rj2z | October 28, 2008 8:50 AM

Its a nice thought that people all over the United States could take the day off on Tuesday, Nov. 4 and go vote in an orderly fashion and be done with it in under an hour. But let's be real. Early voting helps those who work more than one job, those who have small children, those who attend school. What should be changed is the day we vote on. In addition to early voting, we should also have Election Day(s) on the first Saturday and Sunday of November, not a Tuesday.

Posted by: myersdonihoo | October 28, 2008 8:46 AM

I'm not sure that Obama wouldn't be a better president than McCain for bombing raids over enemy capitals. At least he has never been tested, McCain keeps saying he's been tested, but the results of his "tests" were that he crashed three planes and was shot down in a fourth. McCain is proud of his military record--I can't imagine why.

Posted by: kyblue1220 | October 28, 2008 7:37 AM

Early voting helps the election process in a number of ways.

First off it relieves the pressure of voting lines. If there is a problem with voting machines and bottlenecks form at polling places, people can be driven away from casing their vote. There are also cases of the bottlenecks being intentionally created to block votes.

Second it relieves voter registration problems that can end a persons right to vote at the last minute. Early voting allows a person the time to have any error corrected and their vote to be counted.

Third it allows greater convenience in getting to vote. Not all people can take the time off from their jobs or responsibilities to get to the polling places at a predetermined place and time.

Posted by: timothy2me | October 28, 2008 7:31 AM

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