Some early voters get a do-over – but are they taking it?

As early voting booms in a month full of campaign twists, Donald Trump is urging those who already voted for Hillary Clinton to take advantage of provisions allowing them to change their votes. 

Sam Gangwer/The Orange County Register/SCNG/AP
People line up at an early voting site at the University of California, Irvine on Tuesday.

Sealing ballots in official envelopes or dropping them in a box before Nov. 8 seems like a way for voters to finalize their choice and put their involvement in the campaign to rest, but not every state considers those early ballots as final until Election Day.

Early voting has become increasingly popular in the past two decades. In 2012, about one-third of the electorate cast their ballots before Election Day. This year, that could climb to 40 percent of voters, experts say.

Proponents of the system say early voting expands the pool of voters to include those who don't travel easily or who are too busy to head to the polls. Others worry that it robs voters of the opportunity to witness the entire campaign – including any revelations that unfold late in the game.

But in several states that permit vote changing, that isn’t necessarily an issue. And in a campaign that’s been laden with “October surprises,” from a leaked tape of Donald Trump discussing his sexual conduct with women to an increasingly lengthy list of uncovered emails from Hillary Clinton, the divisive 2016 campaign isn’t short on revelations that paint the candidates in a negative light.

Still, experts say, few voters will feel buyer's remorse after casting their ballots.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Robert Stein, a professor of political science at Rice University in Houston, tells The Christian Science Monitor. “But I don’t think there should be a lot of unhappy voters.”

Because voters, especially those who flock to the polls early, generally cast their ballots based on partisan lines, it’s unlikely a Democratic voter who had selected Hillary Clinton would change that vote based on the latest leaked emails – let alone that enough voters would do so to shift the election’s results.

“It will not be decisive in the outcome of either the votes in that state or in the presidential election,” Dr. Stein predicts.

But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Trump from encouraging those in Wisconsin, where voters can change their early ballot up to three times until Thursday, to rethink their vote for Mrs. Clinton.

"Wisconsin is one of several states where you can change your early ballot if you think you've made a mistake," he said at a rally in Eau Claire on Tuesday. "A lot of stuff has come out since you voted."

On Wednesday, he tweeted out the same calling to voters in several other states who may have cast their ballots early and feel some remorse.

“You can change your vote in six states. So, now that you see that Hillary was a big mistake, change your vote to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Other states where voters can request a second, or sometimes third, ballot include Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Mississippi. Deadlines and restrictions can vary across state lines, but each state offers options to those who are watching the latest events unfold and wishing they had waited to vote. 

Arizona, along with swing states Ohio and North Carolina, don’t allow voters to shift their allegiance after casting a ballot. There, poll workers have already started tallying the 800,000 returned ballots in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is.

"It is first in, first counted," vote recorder Helen Purcell, who oversees voting in Maricopa County, told the Associated Press. "If you have sent your ballot to us, we've already verified the signature. We've already processed that ballot. We separated the ballot from the envelope."

In some cases, voters in those states have had a desire to recast their votes in light of new information, Neil Malhotra, a political economy professor at Stanford University, tells the Monitor. When studying the 2008 primary campaigns, Dr. Malhotra found that voters who mailed their ballots in early saw later how their candidate fared sometimes wished they’d had access to more information before making the call.

“This election looks a lot more like a primary election, in that party is not a perfect predictor of how people are voting,” he says. “People are undecided late in the game because they don’t like either candidate.”

But re-voting can create a logistical nightmare in states where the voting process hasn’t been digitized. While Colorado’s entirely mail-in ballot system can easily track ballots and workers can easily cancel out old ones, Wisconsin’s system isn’t equipped to handle such alterations as well.

“You’re lining up, and one person just clogs up the line,” Stein says. “You have to shut your whole operation down to find a needle in the haystack.”

But those cases occur rarely, and sometimes only at single-digit rates, experts say, making them unlikely to become an avenue for voter fraud or inaccurate results.

“People by and large are not going to go through the extraordinary measures to change their votes,” Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida, tells the Monitor. “I tend to think that this is just more rhetoric and a stunt than a way to change the dynamic of the election.”

In addition to its role as political theater, the ploy also suggests that Trump's campaign is looking at polls and the numbers of ballots requested by each party – and worrying, says Dr. McDonald.

“It acknowledges that Clinton’s winning, because Trump actually needs people to change their votes,” he says.

While it's unlikely Trump's plea will resonate with early voters, the growing popularity of early voting could change how parties connect with voters and operate in future elections. As more people vote early, campaigns may choose to front-load voters with information, shifting the disclosure of scandals and valuable electoral information sooner in the campaign.

“October ‘surprises’ can’t be launched at the last minute any more,” Paul Gronke, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who directs the Early Voting Information Center, tells the Monitor in an email. “Think about that for a second: Early voting may actually reduce the possibility of a ‘planned’ campaign October surprise. Unplanned ones … are a lot more difficult.”

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