Since voters in Texas were given the opportunity to “vote early” without having to offer some type of excuse for not being available on election day, the popularity of early voting has soared.

Early voting is now under way through this evening in the local elections scheduled for Saturday, and the hours when polls will be open for early voters have been extended at the Coliseum Annex. The hours will be from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. to give early voters additional opportunities to cast their ballots both before and after traditional work hours.

Polls will be open on Saturday during the same hours — 7 to 7.

For many years, a voter had to offer a valid excuse to cast a ballot before election day. Instead of “early” voting, it was “absentee” voting, which meant you either had to know you weren’t going to be in town on election day or be able to tell a white lie to the election judge.

Early voting regulations have eliminated the need for such a ruse, and Texas voters have embraced it. In some elections, it’s not unusual for as many as half the ballots to be in the box before election day arrives.

The process gives voters the opportunity to choose the most convenient day for them to vote and keep their schedules flexible, while reducing the possibility of long waits at the polls on election day. Early voting has proven so successful throughout the nation, that some states are considering the possibility of downplaying the declared specific “election day” to a point where it’s just the final opportunity on the “early” voting schedule.

It’s a logical step, if it doesn’t run result in a violation of the bevy of federal election regulations that oversee election procedures. Election day brings with it a longer list of places where voters can cast their votes, each designed to be convenient geographically to the places where voters live. Having one central early voting location in the day leading up to the formal election day is less confusing, it may not always be most convenient for voters.

The popularity of early voting has also altered the dynamics of campaigns, to some extent. With so many voters making their decisions in the days before the actual election, supporters of candidates and issues must accelerate and perhaps extend their efforts across a wider timeframe.

While the experts ponder those matters, early voting has proven to be one of the best moves public officials have made to encourage voter turnout. Brown County voters planning to participate in the May 10 election may do so Monday, Tuesday or Saturday. The polls are even open during lunch.

It doesn’t matter when you vote, as long as you do.

Brownwood Bulletin