In a political season that sometimes seems as if it will never end, Sept. 23 was an important day – it was the beginning of the end.
Early voting in four states began on that day. Registered voters in Minnesota, South Dakota and Vermont began to cast their ballots in person or by mail. (Voters in Virginia have to provide a valid reason to get an absentee ballot to vote early.) On Sept. 26, some Mississippi voters began voting.
Nearly 40 states now have procedures for voters to cast their ballots before General Election Day on Nov. 8.
Here’s a look at early voting in the United States and which states allow it.
What is early voting?
Early voting allows voters to cast their ballots before election day in November.
Click here to see what states vote early.
Why have it?
Convenience, mostly. It allows some voters to mail ballots if they would have a tough time getting to the polls, and it cuts down on lines on Election Day.
How many states have early voting?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states have some form of early voting.
What types of early voting are there?
- In-person absentee voting
This means is that voters can get a ballot early, but must turn it at a designated place. The ballot is counted with other absentee ballots.
No-excuse absentee voting
Every state allows people who cannot get to the polling place for a specific reason (such as illness or disability) to mail in an absentee ballot. In 27 states you do not have to give a reason to vote by mail-in absentee ballot.
- Permanent absentee voting
In some states, voters can be put on a permanent absentee voter list. Voters will receive absentee ballots for all future elections.
- Vote by mail
Three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, hold their elections via mail – no polling places. Voters must return ballots via mail by Election Day.
Who votes early?
According to Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and founder of the Elections Project, early voting could account for up to 34 percent of the vote in the 2016 election.
"Early votes will give us a good contour of who's enthused to show up to vote," McDonald told National Public Radio.
"Early voters are people who have already made up their minds," McDonald said. "Clinton and Trump supporters will vote right now, and it won't matter what happens until Election Day. They're well educated and dedicated."
Below, courtesy of The Associated Press, is a primer on registering to vote.
In the U.S., states have wide discretion when it comes to crafting election laws. The result has been a patchwork of rules that can often be confusing to voters. Questions and answers about various election laws and how they affect voters:
When is the deadline to register to vote?
Voter registration deadlines vary by state, ranging from 30 days before an election to Election Day. If you live in one of the 12 states that offer same-day voter registration, you can show up on Election Day and register and vote at the same time. In Maryland and North Carolina, same-day registration is allowed only during the early voting period and not on Election Day.
Can I register to vote online?
Yes, if you live in one of the 32 states or the District of Columbia that allow it. In most cases, the information provided in the online form is matched against a state's database of those who have a driver's license or other state-issued identification card.
Do I need to show a photo ID when I vote?
Laws that either request or require voters to show some form of identification are in effect in 32 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, half require photo identification, while the other half will accept non-photo identification such as a bank statement or utility bill with a voter's name and address on it.
What happens if I don’t have a photo ID or forget it on Election Day?
This depends largely on where you live. If you live in one of seven states with a "strict" photo ID law, you probably will be directed to fill out a provisional ballot. If you live in one of the nine states with a "non-strict" photo ID, some voters can cast a ballot that will be counted without any additional action needed.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes, in some states. Eight make allowances for people who have religious objections to being photographed, and two have provisions for the poor.
What if I have a problem voting on Election Day?
If you experience any voting-related problem, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission encourages you to contact your state or local election office for information on how to file a complaint. You also can register a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice at 800-253-3931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Various groups also offer assistance, including the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition, which can provide specific information on voting procedures and how to make sure your vote is counted. The group can be reached at 866-OUR-VOTE or online here.
Registration and other voter information for each state can be found here.
To check your state’s early voting deadline, and which voting options you have, click here.
© 2018 Cox Media Group.