Paul beat me to posting a link to Tony Quinn’s op-ed in yesterday’s LA Times. The thing that really struck me about Quinn’s argument was not only (as Paul pointed out) how early voting results (as estimated by campaign polls) could be used strategically by candidates to affect their standing in other states (presumably those having primaries before California), but also how the use of early absentee voting in places like California could strengthen the hand of front-runners in the presidential sweepstakes:
It would not be a big step for the pollster of a presidential campaign to poll a random sample of permanent absentee voters, whose names can be obtained from mail-list vendors, on how they voted and, if the results are favorable, make them public. Campaigns make a big deal about leading in preelection polls, mainly to raise money. What’s more, if a candidate could show he or she was leading in votes already cast, the effect on other voters could be significant.
Both parties’ front-runners, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Republican Rudolph Giuliani, New York’s former mayor, could lose in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina before what’s shaping up as a national primary Feb. 5, with as many as 20 states voting that day. But Clinton and Giuliani will have the money and staff to campaign aggressively in California for its 440 Democratic and 173 Republican convention delegates, respectively, and to contact early absentee voters and urge them to return their ballots. They also could be quick to find out how those absentees voted. And you can be sure that if absentee voters are going for Clinton or Giuliani, their campaigns won’t hide this from the public.
That could set up an unexpected dynamic: California absentee results influencing how voters act in other states. For instance, if 370,000 Californians cast early votes for Clinton and Giuliani, and caucus-goers in Iowa and primary voters in New Hampshire learn this, they could be influenced by the results when they vote.
Early absentee voting is likely to strengthen the front-runners, making success by an insurgent or second-tier candidate that much harder. Only well-financed candidates can effectively compete in such large states as California. They will be able to appeal to absentee voters, just as Schwarzenegger did, and thus to bank early votes and publicize them.