With many counting down the days until November, the stress of the election is upon us, especially today, on National Voter Registration Day. But while concerns about mail-in voting and absentee ballots have many running frantic, there’s another safe option that will help people avoid crowds and long lines while still casting their vote in a monumental election: early voting.
Early voting has been in place for decades, and allows many states open up the polls before the official Election Day. According to TIME, California first adopted a type of early voting called no-excuse absentee balloting in the 1970s to eliminate excuses. In the 1980s, Texas also began offering in-person early voting to make things more convenient. Since then, it’s only increased in popularity. In 2016, for example, 37 states and D.C. allowed some form of early voting, which gave many the option to vote without waiting in lines or in crowds on Election Day.
Now, amid Black Lives Matter protests, the fight against police violence, climate change, 2020 might just be the most important year to commit to going to the polls early with our democracy at stake. And you can do this without fear of crowded spaces amid the pandemic, which is perhaps more of a reason than ever. Ahead, we’ve mapped out the most important things you need to know about early voting so you can flex the right to make your voice count.
Can I vote early?
It’s more likely than not that you’ll be able to participate in early voting, either by mail or in person if you choose to do so. That’s why checking to see how you’ll be able to vote this year, what’s safest and most effective for you, and making a voting plan is so crucial.
This year, nine states and Washington D.C. are automatically sending ballots to every registered voter, including in: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. More than 30 states are allowing absentee ballots including, and many states are offering some form of in-person early voting. In many places like Minnesota, South Dakota, New Jersey, and Virginia, it's already begun.
You’ll have to check the specific requirements for your state, but all states technically offer some form of mail-in voting, which you will get before Election Day. It varies greatly by state, but vote.org has all of the baseline info you need to know about when early voting starts and ends where you are. Check now and mark your calendars (digital ones, too!)
How can I vote early?
Find out if you’re registered to vote and make sure all of your information is updated. Then, figure out if you'll be sending your ballot by mail or voting in person. If you live in a state like Colorado or Oregon that’s sending all registered voters a mail-in ballot, all you need to do is make sure your voter registration is up to date and mail the ballot back as soon as possible once you get it.
To vote early in person, you’ll have to find out if your state offers it, when early voting opens and closes, and find a time and polling place hosting it. Then, choose a day to go with your ID, and be ready to cast a vote.
What is the benefit of voting early?
If you already know who you want to vote for, early voting is the way to go. People who can vote early and have the time and resources to do so ensure that others who won’t be able to vote until Election Day for whatever reason can do so more smoothly. It also means you don’t have to worry about clearing your schedule on Election Day.
In general, voting early maximizes the chance that your ballot will be successfully processed and counted, and that everyone else’s will be, too, because election officials have ample time to handle everything without being rushed.
This year especially, there are shortages in poll workers, which could mean fewer polling stations, longer lines, and being indoors with others for a longer amount of time. Voting early is its own form of social distancing and keeping you and your community members safe by reducing that foot traffic and crowded spaces — which makes it all the more important for us all to do what we can.