Like most Americans who don’t live in the handful of swing states that decide close presidential elections, I’ve watched the pandering, politicking and passion directed at those lucky voters and wondered, what about us? I’m part of the vast electoral desert.
The primaries have been even worse, as we in the clamorous majority have had to stand by idly as a pair of small, overwhelmingly white states chose the party nominees. Oh, for a negative ad, a robocall, an earnest door-beller.
But all of that changed when Washington state moved its presidential nominating contest up to March 10 — so-called Mini Tuesday, when voters in six states get to weigh in. Washington, with 89 delegates at stake, has the second-largest haul, behind Michigan.
But my vote won’t count. It’s not because a nursing home in the Seattle area is at the center of the deadly sweep of coronavirus in the United States. Because there is no in-person voting except for a few special exceptions, the virus outbreak may not affect turnout, though election officials have urged people to refrain from licking their mail-in envelopes. The candidates are staying away, and rightfully so. Social distancing, in a public health crisis, is not the same as shunning.
No, the problem is early voting. I cast my ballot by mail last month. I was one of more than 600,000 people in Washington who voted even before the South Carolina primary. Voting at leisure, by mail, is the simplest, easiest way to have your say. You don’t even need a stamp.
But I voted for one of the candidates who have since dropped out. That means I will have zero influence on the outcome. If we had ranked choice — in which you could pick a second candidate in case your chosen one failed to make the top tier — it would count. But that’s another argument.
Since I mailed in my ballot, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg have dropped out. I should mention that I wrote a column just before Super Tuesday urging all of them to do just that. But what politician ever takes advice from a writer?
My experience is shared by millions of people, especially in California, who voted before the landscape shifted sharply. In essence, we are disenfranchised by our early diligence to democratic duty.
A friend of mine says you should always wait until the very last minute to vote because, as he quoted the mother of Mario Cuomo, the former New York governor, “Between now and then, a pope will be born.”
I never understood what that meant. I do now. And I will never vote before Election Day again.
Timothy Egan is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.