More states join in this week. Somewhere in Minnesota this Friday, a voter will cast the first ballot of that state’s midterm election. The following day, voters in Maine, New Jersey, South Dakota and Vermont will be able to go to local elections offices and do their civic duty, too. Before the month is out, voters in Iowa and Wyoming will start casting their ballots, too.
State laws vary widely, even in states that allow voters to cast ballots so early. Some states allow voters to use the same machines they would use on Election Day. Others require early voters to use absentee ballots, which they can fill out at county elections offices.
But the vast majority of states allow voters to register their opinions before Election Day. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have either early voting stations or no-fault absentee ballot laws. Three more, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, conduct elections entirely by mail.
When voters can start voting
And while every state allows absentee ballots, voters in 14 states must provide an excuse if they want to vote early. The bulk of voters in those states — which include competitive Senate elections in places like New Hampshire, Kentucky and Michigan — will have to cast their ballots on Election Day.
The increasing prevalence of early and absentee voting over the last two decades has changed the way parties conduct their elections. While Republicans once bragged about the 72-hour program, when the party’s vaunted turnout machine would spring into action in the days before polls opened, today both parties are engaged in something that looks more like a 720-hour program. Election Day has become Election Month.
Both sides maintain copious and comprehensive lists of voters, and most elections offices report which voters have returned their ballots. That allows parties to shrink their universe of targeted voters as Election Day approaches. As more people vote, the parties can spend their precious resources only on those who have yet to vote.
Starting this week in Minnesota and a few other states, that process begins in earnest.