Early voting in recent American elections has skyrocketed, reaching a record thirty percent of all votes cast in the 2008 presidential election, remarkably higher than the twenty percent cast in 2004. All indications are the record will be shattered again in 2012, with somewhere around thirty-five of the vote 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 have traditional absentee balloting laws that extend early voting only to those who provide a valid excuse. 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. (I recommend seeking up-to-date voting information from state and local election officials.)
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 thus a combination of more states adopting early voting alternatives and increasing use among voters. Washington perhaps 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.
Full Article: Michael P. McDonald: Early Voting in 2012: What to Expect.