A somewhat recent trend in elections: polling places which open a few weeks before normal Election Day, typically at county courthouses and such, so people can still vote if they aren't able (or willing?) on the day itself. It's called "early voting" — and I'm seriously thinking of doing so this year because, as is typical for yours truly, I have had it up to here with this election and its negativity. Here in the Mountain State, we've had special elections in both 2010 and 2011, so I am more disgusted with it than usual and more than ready to put the whole mess behind me.
This new "early voting" trend presents an interesting grammatical dilemma. My good friend Chris touched on it during one of the many recent special elections, and though it may be a little nitpicky, it's worthy of discussion.
First, the word "voting" by itself. "Vote" is a verb, hence: voted, voting, and so forth. You can also take the gerund "voting" — a verb turned magically into a noun — and say something like, "Voting shall take place on the first Tuesday in November." And, you should be able to tack the adjective "early" on the front, since adjectives and nouns go together like peas and carrots. So far so good.
Now let's look at some use cases.
Early voting in Kanawha County will begin on October 24.
The gerund "voting" accepted its adjective cousin without any family strife whatsoever, and the sentence conveys exactly what's going on. It's a noun. It's a process. Let's try again.
Though she doesn't have a snowball's chance, I voted for Jill Stein for President.
Perhaps an unconventional candidate, but the usage is certainly conventional, and presumably, so was the voting process (barring any "modifications" by Diebold, that is). Since this is going pretty well, let's go ahead and cross that line and reveal the troublesome construction: the verb phrase. If you take advantage of an early voting opportunity, are we supposed to say...
- you early voted as in "I early voted yesterday" or
- you voted early as in "I voted early yesterday" or
- you did something else — and if so, what?
I think the first option, early voted, sounds weird in this context. I know, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and they all stink. But "early voted" as a verb phrase doesn't sound like proper English... unless Yoda you are. The second option, however, is ambiguous — does it mean you voted before 7:30 in the morning, or does it mean you took advantage of an early voting option given to you by your precinct? Ambiguity is worse than weird. Weird simply means it's something different to grow accustomed to, and it will just take a little time.
Of course we could all say we "took advantage of an early voting opportunity" — but wow, what a mouthful! Who has time for all that?
Actually, I think a third option (like Jill Stein) will eventually emerge, and that will become the norm. I'll speculate it will start with "early vote" as its basis, and probably go through a hyphenated "early-vote" phase before merging into a completely new word like earlyvote. Precedence can be found in the word blackball, another voting process. In some clubs and secret societies, potential new members must be approved by a large majority of existing members. Votes are cast anonymously in a little box — approving votes are cast with white balls and opposing votes are cast with black balls. By opening the ballot box after the voting is finished, it's easy to see at a glance if someone has been blackballed by simply looking for the black balls.
So: early-vote, perhaps one day to become earlyvote. Not this election cycle, certainly, but I think within the next twenty years provided the trend of early-voting continues. (And by all means, let's make it happen before we have to throw in the comparative "earlier-voting" or the superlative "earliest-voting".)