The midterm election may be weeks away, but tens of thousands of ballots have already been cast in a reprise of an increasingly powerful political tool: early voting. In North Carolina, which has a pivotal U.S. Senate contest at the top of the ticket, voting began Sept. 5 when absentee ballots were mailed to voters. As of Friday about 15,000 voters — the majority of them Democrats — had requested ballots ahead of Nov. 4. On Thursday, Iowans, who will choose between Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst in a competitive race for an open Senate seat, began to vote both in person and through early absentee ballots. Already, more than 145,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, with Democrats outpacing Republicans by about 38,000 requests, according to the Iowa secretary of state’s office. In 2010, Democrats in the Hawkeye State cast 19,000 more early ballots than did Republicans.
In September, states including Georgia and Minnesota will allow voters to cast ballots early. California and Arizona offer similar voting options in early October.
From Maine and Florida to Wisconsin and Alaska, 35 states allow voters to fill out ballots at polling stations or mail them prior to election day.
“In reality, the days of an actual election ‘day’ are long gone,” said Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who specializes in elections and voter turnout. “It’s a solid election month, if not more in some places, and will continue to expand.”