Does the Constitution allow for early voting?

Yesterday, American Thinker carried my blog about the trend towards absentee balloting in many states across America and noted how this would benefit Barack Obama disproportionably more than John McCain. Today, the New York Sun also found problems with this practice-residing in the Constitution.
The way things are headed, by the time 2012 rolls around, the general election voting will begin before the parties have even chosen their candidates. The states have broad latitude to set their own rules on elections, but if voting this early becomes more common, Congress may want to think about trying to establish some national standards.

A USA Today article this week on the trend called it "the most extensive early voting process in history" and said it was driven by the desire of bureaucrats to avoid long lines at polling sites on Election Day. The article quoted the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Rosemary Rodriguez, as calling the early voting — which is estimated to be taken advantage of by as many as 50% of voters in some states — "a sea change" and "a little bit astounding."

The Constitution is less than clear-cut about the matter. On one hand, it says that each state shall appoint, "in such matter as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors." That gives the states broad latitude to do things however they want. On the other hand, it says, "The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States." The references to a "day" and "time" suggest an election conducted over a period shorter than the stretch between now and Election Day.

Joseph Story's commentary on the Constitution calls the wisdom of the clause "almost self-evident. Every reason of public policy and convenience seems in favour of a fixed time of giving the electoral votes, and that it should be the same throughout the Union." We're aware of the distinction between giving electoral votes and giving the individual votes that determine the electoral votes, but some of the same reasoning in favor applies.

The presidency, after all, is a national office.

The Sun notes that voters will be casting their ballots before each of the candidates has debated each other, has voted on the controversial bailout plan for Congress, or responded to a potential Al Qaeda terror attack meant to effect our election.

This practice frustrates the imperative for our democracy to be based on an informed electorate. Congress should exercise its prerogative to consider this proliferating practice.