Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler showed up on the top of The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page Wednesday with a column titled “Who Stole Election Day?” in which he complained about early voting.

Several things were on his mind about the trend to let people not only cast absentee ballots for pressing personal reasons, but also just show up and vote at will, days or weeks in advance of Election Day.

(It didn’t take long for blogger Mike Tipping to note that “public records” show Cutler voted early in five of eight recent elections. That may make him disingenuous, or it may just be that he’s seen the error of his ways.)

Either way, the point that deserves the least respect is Cutler’s contention that early voting may have caused him to lose the election. He cites polls saying he started out with only 15 percent support, but his numbers grew as Democrat Libby Mitchell’s declined, so that, “In the end, more than 207,000 voters marked their ballots for me, and perhaps several thousand more would have had they not voted early.”

Yes, Mainers are guilty of voting for someone other than him. Isn’t there a cure for that yet? What color ribbon can we wear to help find it? Or, as Hillary Clinton famously said when asked about other paths she might have taken to boost her failed health care proposal, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”

Since every race with more than one candidate includes at least one loser, that gripe has considerably less weight than Cutler appears to think it does.

One is reminded of the football coach who says after a close game that if there had been 30 seconds more on the clock, his team could have scored and won. But if football games were 65 minutes long, the loser would still complain they should be 70. There’s no end to that discussion.

But not to be too harsh, Cutler did say Paul LePage won “fair and square” and he didn’t seek a recount, adding, “Our new governor has my full support and fervent good wishes.”

Still, that’s not all Cutler had to say, and his second point has something worth expanding on.

“At a time when sea changes are occurring in our democracy,” he writes, “political parties are in decline and public confidence in the political system is plummeting, convenience voting is having all the wrong effects. In Maine, at least, it appears to be encouraging voter engagement, providing life support to withering political parties and undermining one of our most enduring and important political institutions.”

What he correctly calls “convenience voting” was, of course, instituted with the best of intentions. The easier we make it to vote, the more people will exercise the franchise, and that’s an officially certified good thing, right?

Well, maybe not. Especially not if it leads people to vote 1) in ignorance of events that occur close to Election Day; 2) in a hurry to get a civic duty done; or 3) under the influence of people gaming the system by “assisting” people to vote for the assisters’ favorites.

Cutler says parties and interest groups are specifically organized for the last purpose, and thus early voting is weighted in favor of their candidates.

That’s not a plus, but it’s not early voting’s worst aspect, either. What’s worse is that it lessens respect for democracy by making something that should have an element of sacrifice to it into just another easily tossed-off activity.

But let Cutler say it: “I am convinced that we lose something intangible but important when we make voting just another item on our fall to-do list. The act of voting together on Election Day has represented an important affirmation of democracy and citizenship since the earliest days of our nation. However inconvenient, standing in line to vote reminds us that our democracy is a shared enterprise and that, no matter our individual circumstances, every person in line has just one vote.”

Casting a ballot is both a privilege and a duty, and the right was won for us by people prepared to sacrifice “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” in creating our nation.

The right has been nailed down over subsequent centuries by people who quite literally put their bodies between their homes and families and those who would destroy them. They suffered considerable “inconvenience” in doing so.

If we, absent some good reason for not being able to do so, can’t set aside some time on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November to get up off our duffs and make the trip to the polls, the fault is no one’s but our own. Having to endure a mild inconvenience serves the valuable purpose of reminding us of the major sacrifices millions of others have made over our history to make our ability to vote possible.

Should we be so sunk in self-centeredness that we cannot make a tiny sacrifice that honors their tremendous ones?

Yes, I know. Voting is important, and everything that has been done to make it “easier” is intended to expand and improve democratic governance.

But this is not the first time that good intentions have paved the way to unpleasant destinations. Early voting did not, after all, raise the percentage of the electorate that historically has shown up for mid-term elections. The secretary of state’s prediction of 55 percent was right on the mark, and is a good 10 to 20 points below the number who vote in various presidential years.

We have tried to make voting roughly as difficult as buying a candy bar. But some decisions, like buying a house or finding a spouse, should only occur when the time is right, after a considerable amount of diligent thought, care and deliberation.

The same ought to hold true for picking our leaders.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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