Even though Election Day is still several weeks away, many Americans are already casting their votes. The number of people choosing to vote before Election Day has dramatically increased over the last 32 years. Today, Election Day is merely the last day a voter can cast a ballot.
Early voting in recent American elections has skyrocketed, reaching a record thirty percent of all votes cast in the 2008 presidential election, much higher than the twenty percent cast in 2004. It appears that these records will be shattered again in 2012, with somewhere around thirty-five percent of all votes being cast prior to Election Day.
States vary their early voting options. Some states like Indiana and Texas allow persons to vote early at special polling locations. Some like Oregon and Washington, and some local jurisdictions, run all-mail ballot elections. Some like California and Colorado allow persons to request that they vote by mail in all future elections. Some like Ohio allow persons to request a mail ballot for any reason. Then there are a handful of holdouts like Pennsylvania and Virginia that have traditional absentee balloting laws that extend early voting only to those who provide a valid excuses. Complicating definitions is that some states like Florida and North Carolina allow both early voting at special polling locations and no-fault absentee balloting. And where mail balloting is the primary method of early voting, voters can vote in person at an election administration office.
All states used to have what might be considered traditional absentee voting laws. The laws have evolved since. California was the first to adopt no-fault absentee balloting in 1980. Florida, Tennessee and Texas first opened special early-voting locations in 1996. Oregon adopted all-mail elections by a 1998 voter initiative. When early voting is tabulated by states, the national upward trend in early voting is located clearly among early voting states, although there has been a slight rise in early voting in states with traditional absentee balloting. The upward national trajectory is a combination of more states adopting early voting alternatives and increasing use among voters. Washington best exemplifies the love voters have for early voting. So many people signed up to permanently receive ballots that election administrators decided to dispense with opening Election Day polling places that were costly to run and empty. Colorado is nearing a similar tipping point.
Campaigns have adjusted their strategies to the way people vote. Election administrators track the status of every registered voter, whether they voted in person early, and if they have a mail ballot in hand or if it has been returned. They then scratch these voters off their target lists and refocus their efforts to those who have yet to vote. Once the election rolls around and you want the campaigns to stop contacting you...vote early!