In an era of early voting, no-fault absentee ballots and all-mail elections, Election Day is something of a misnomer. Candidates and their supporters now drive their voters to the polls for days, weeks, sometimes more than a month. And it’s already kicked off: 379 voters in North Carolina have requested and returned absentee ballots from state elections officials. More states join in this week. Somewhere in Minnesota this Friday, a voter will cast the first ballot of that state’s midterm election. The following day, voters in Maine, New Jersey, South Dakota and Vermont will be able to go to local elections offices and do their civic duty, too. Before the month is out, voters in Iowa and Wyoming will start casting their ballots, too.
State laws vary widely, even in states that allow voters to cast ballots so early. Some states allow voters to use the same machines they would use on Election Day. Others require early voters to use absentee ballots, which they can fill out at county elections offices.
But the vast majority of states allow voters to register their opinions before Election Day. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have either early voting stations or no-fault absentee ballot laws. Three more, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, conduct elections entirely by mail.
And while every state allows absentee ballots, voters in 14 states must provide an excuse if they want to vote early. The bulk of voters in those states — which include competitive Senate elections in places like New Hampshire, Kentucky and Michigan — will have to cast their ballots on Election Day.