In recent years American voters are rediscovering a way of voting used during the country’s first half-century of existence. I’m talking about early voting. Since the early 1990s, the number voters who cast their ballots prior to Election Day has steadily risen from less than a tenth to about a third. The rise is fueled by two phenomenon. More states are offering early voting options, and once a state adopts early voting more people vote early a part of their election regimen. As voters cast their ballots prior to Election Day, they may be surprised to learn they are walking in the shoes of the nation’s founders. At the founding, voting was held over several days so that rural voters could have ample time to travel to town and county courthouses to cast their ballots. An extended voting period could not be disrupted greatly by unexpected weather that made rural river crossings impassable. In other words, early voting was matter of convenience. Two centuries later, convenience continues to be the rallying cry of early voting advocates. Just as an argument for early voting echoes through time, so does an argument against. In 1845, the federal government set a uniform, single day for voting for president: the familiar first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Among the arguments for a single day was that it would prevent people from crossing state lines to vote more than once. Today, politicians speak of early voting as one way by which elections can be “rigged.”
Early voting returned to elections through the military. During the Civil War, soldiers voted absentee by mailing ballots to family members for them to cast by proxy. Later, these practices were formalized through state laws during the early 1900s that allowed ballots to be mailed directly to election officials, and also gradually extended the same privileges to civilians. These laws required voters to have a state-approved excuse for voting an absentee ballot, such as travel or illness.
In a handful of states, primarily in the South and North-East, excuse-required absentee voting is still the only early voting option. In 1980, California pioneered the modern resurgence of early voting by lifting the requirement that a voter provide an excuse to vote by mail. Since then, California and other states, mostly in the West, have innovated permanent mail ballot status and all mail ballot elections. Any qualifying voter can request and cast a mail ballot at their local election office. Meanwhile in the East, Florida, Tennessee and Texas extended in-person early voting to special satellite polling locations in 1996.
The federal law setting a uniform day of voting still stands, so why is early voting is legal? In a 2001 challenge to Oregon’s no-excuse absentee voting, a federal court ruled that the election must be “consummated” on Election Day. As long as election officials don’t count votes until Election Day, early voting is legal.
Full Article: A Brief History Of Early Voting | Huffington Post.