If you follow EVIC you already know that early and absentee voting laws and policies are complex and vary widely across the fifty states. That’s why EVIC publishes an early and absentee voting calendar and spreadsheet for every general election.
This year, we’ve updated our products and hope the additional information encourages further dialogue about how these rules affect voters. So, make sure to try out all the new bells and whistles. Below, we explain what our information means and provide some basic context. If you’re worried that we misrepresent any state’s election law or policy, do not hesitate to let us know and post below.
Finally, EVIC wants to thank Jonathan Harvey and Tony Moreno, from Reed College CIS, who helped program and design the new calendar. I also want to thank Alex Arpaia, who helped gather the early and absentee voting data.
More information below the split.
Early In Person Voting: Does the state provide early in-person (EIP) voting? Thirty-five states and DC offer EIP voting. Many of the states that do not offer EIP are in the Atlantic Northeast, while EIP has been most popular in the South. In fact, data from the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Elections Study shows that 36% of Southern voters cast their ballot in-person before Election Day. This number has been on the rise since at least 1996, when early voting data first became available. The Black early voting electorate has also seen a significant increase starting in 2008, though it began to grow earlier in some states such as North Carolina.
Voting by Mail: Does the state provide vote-by-mail? We only define a voting system as vote-by-mail if by-mail voting is the only voting method. The three VBM states are Oregon, Washington, and (for the first time) Colorado. In VBM states, voters are encouraged to return their ballots to drop boxes located around the state, and needn’t visit a polling station (I’ve always wanted to know whether they get “I voted” stickers at the drop boxes. Any insight would be appreciated).
No Excuse Absentee: Does the state provide no-excuse absentee voting (NXA)? All states must provide an absentee voting option for citizens with an excuse—for example, being too sick to visit a polling station. Twenty-eight states and DC allow for absentee voting without an excuse. NXA is most popular in the West, with more than 50% of Western respondents to the 2010 Current Population Survey reporting that they cast by-mail ballots. Though early in-person voting has received significantly more political attention (most attempts to change state election legislation focus on EIP, not absentee voting–check out these two links) there are reasons to believe that absentee voting is more prone to fraud or more likely (though still not very likely) to cause election turmoil (note immediately below).
Post Mark: When deciding whether to accept a by-mail ballot, does the state consider the postmark date, or only when the ballot arrives? Thirteen states and DC consider the postmark (PM) date when deciding whether to accept an absentee ballot. At least one regular contributor to EVIC believes that this policy is bad.
Date EIP Opens / Closes: On what day does early in-person voting begin and end? Nine states (Minnesota, South Dakota, Mississippi, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Missouri, Iowa, Wyoming) let voters turn in ballots in-person in as early as late September. A number of the proposed state legislative changes to election law affect the length of the early voting period (note the links above, especially Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana).
EIP Weekday Hours: If the state provides EIP, during what hours is EIP open on weekdays (Monday through Friday)? The number of hours available for voters to vote early, either per day or as a total across the early voting period, has been the subject of significant controversy across the country. Some states provide a minimum number of hours that an early voting office must stay open, but allows the office to stay open for longer.
EIP Weekend: Are early in-person voting locations open on the weekend? If so, on what days and at what times? Most states that offer EIP voting either require at least one day of weekend voting (usually the final Saturday before the election, but not always) or let the particular county decide whether to permit weekend EIP voting. Florida received significant attention during Election 2012 when Florida HB 1355 took away early voting on the last Sunday before the election—the same day that, in 2008, a large portion of the Black early voting electorate came out to vote.
Last day to request an absentee ballot: What is the last day that a voter can request an absentee ballot for the November general election? Though many states let voters request absentee ballots up until the Monday before the election, on multiple occasions state election officials told me that voters would do well to request an absentee ballot well before then. The state needs time, they noted, to send the voter the absentee ballot, and the voter needs time to then send the ballot back in. In other words, request your absentee ballot as early as possible!
Last day voters can return an absentee ballot: What is the last possible day that the state election office will accept a voter’s absentee ballot? This date is often November 4th (Election Day), but not always. For example, the state may have a different final date for returning an absentee ballot in-person than by-mail. Also, if the state considers the postmark date on absentee ballots, them the state may accept the absentee ballot after Election Day as long as the ballot is postmarked on or before Election Day.
Date VBM ballots mailed: This only refers to the three states that provide VBM. The three full VBM states (WA, OR, CO) send ballots out at around mid-October.
Date absentee ballots mailed: The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires states to send absentee ballots to such voters at least 45 days prior to the election—for this election, September 20th. Many states also send their domestic absentee ballots on or very near this September 20th date as well.
Phone numbers: Contact information for the election officials in the respective state.
Websites: Either the state’s Secretary of State webpage or a page specifically for elections.