Early Voting, Now a Reality in Most States, Is Underway

Although candidates are still campaigning, some voters have already made their choices in this year’s general election. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia allow early voting before Nov. 8. By the end of October, voters in a third of the country will have had the opportunity to cast their ballots.

Early voting methods and terms vary and are determined by each state. Thirty-four states and the District open polls and allow voters to cast ballots without having to provide a reason, such as a medical condition, that would prevent them from appearing at the polls on Election Day.

During the third week in October, the three states that conduct their elections entirely by mail—Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—send registered voters their ballots, which may be mailed back to the voters’ local election offices or returned in person at designated drop boxes.  The other 47 states and the District offer absentee ballots, which may be returned by mail anytime before Election Day; 20 of these states require voters to have an excuse for using an absentee ballot, and the other 28 allow voters to choose the absentee option without a reason.

According to Michael McDonald, who runs ElectionProject.org, early voting is growing in popularity. The share of ballots cast before Election Day rose from less than a tenth in the early 90s to around 30 percent—or roughly 32 million ballots—in the 2012 general election.

The Voting Information Project (VIP), an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts in partnership with the states and Google, ensures that voters have the information they need, such as where to vote and what is on their ballots. The project uses the Google Civic Information Application Programming Interface to power various tools and applications, including the Voting Information Tool, Get to the Polls.com,  short messaging service (SMS) tool,* and white-label iPhone and Android applications.

Pew is working with our partners to collect the data necessary to power all VIP tools for the upcoming general election. 

* By sending a text message to Pew, you consent to receive voting information via texts from an automated system. This is a free service, but standard text message rates may apply. You may revoke consent by contacting Pew, including by texting STOP.

Alexis Schuler is the senior director and Samuel Derheimer is a manager for election initiatives at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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