Early voting

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Early voting refers to the growing trend of Americans to vote prior to Election Day, as allowed in most states.

In 2008, one-third of Americans voted prior to Election Day, and that fraction continues to increase. In the Nevada Election 2010, more than half the votes cast were by early voting.

Most states allow early voting in some form, but the percentage of votes cast by early voting varies from 100% to just a few percent.

The early voting data for 2010 in the swing states for the Presidential Election 2012 is as follows.

State # Electoral College votes Percentage that voted early in 2010
Nevada 6 65%
Colorado 13 70%
Wisconsin 10 10%
Iowa 6 33%
New Hampshire 4 7%
North Carolina 15 45%
Ohio 18 25%
Virginia 13 7%
Florida 29 42.5%

There are two major objections to early voting. First, it facilitates voter intimidation, particularly by unions and large employers that try to increase turnout by their people.[1] Second, it increases the potential for voter fraud, particularly in the absence of protections that safeguard the integrity of physical votes.[2]

While early voting plainly undermines the notion of a uniform Election Day, various arguments are used, typically by Democrats, to advocate its adoption by state legislatures. One argument is that early voting increases overall turnout. Another argument used in Ohio is that Ohio voters should not have to wait in line until 4:00am the following morning to cast a ballot in a presidential election, as happened in 2004.[3] Of course, extra poll workers, voting machines, and booths could be added for Election Day if that were a genuine concern. Some, including Ohio's Cuyahoga County, argue that early voting can save money in this regard, as the same machines and equipment that would otherwise be idle can be used, avoiding the need to purchase new and expensive election equipment. But Political Science Professor Todd Eberly argues that early voting adds millions of dollars in expense while lowering overall voter turnout:[4]

Early voting is actually a waste of taxpayer money that does not boost turnout. In a study of the 2008 election, researchers at the University of Wisconsin actually found that early voting results in lower turnout – not higher. Specifically they found that though more than 30 percent of votes cast in the 2008 presidential race arrived before Election Day, the study determined early voting actually depressed turnout in a typical county by 3 percentage points.

In a 1996 study of early voting turnout in Tennessee elections in 1994, Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr. and Grant W. Neely said that early voting could increase overall turnout.[5]

In a 2007 paper, Paul Gronke, Eva Galanes-Rosenbuam, and Peter A. Miller (all affiliated with Reed College) found that early voting improves the procedural integrity of elections and results in a modest increase in overall turnout. The authors nevertheless conclude "It is no longer a question of whether early voting is a smart reform; the question now is what sort of early voting to allow and how to adjust to its impact."[6]

A state-by-state analysis is available showing the percentage of ballots cast in early voting,[7] but note that the percentage is growing rapidly with each election.


In Colorado in "2008, Democrats had about a 25,000-ballot advantage over Republicans in early voting. But Republican turnout zoomed past Democrats' on Election Day, and more Republicans than Democrats ultimately voted in 2008."[8] In 2010, there were about 1,638,000 votes cast for the U.S. Senate seat from Colorado, but well over 1 million people participated in early voting.[9]


Virginia does not have formal early voting. However, Virginia provides for both mail-in and in-person absentee voting.[10] To vote absentee, the voter must fill out an affidavit stating that one of several reasons for absentee voting applies.[11] In contrast, in early voting states, any voter can vote before election day without stating a reason.

The absentee voting period begins 45 days before election day.[12]


  1. "Executives at the casino giant Harrah's pushed company employees to vote early in an all-out effort to help the Harry Reid campaign, according to internal emails obtained by Battle ‘10." [1]
  2. See, e.g., "Early Voting Fraud," National Review [2].
  3. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/2004-11-17-early-voting_x.htm
  4. http://marylandreporter.com/2012/09/10/early-voting-costs-counties-2-6m-but-hasnt-increased-turnout-yet/
  5. L.E. Richardson, Jr. and G.E. Neely. "The impact of early voting on turnout: The 1994 elections in Tennessee." State & Local Government Review 28(3):173-79 (1996)
  6. P. Gronke, E. Galanes-Rosenbaum, and P.A. Miller. "Early voting and turnout." PS-WASHINGTON 40(4):639 (2007).
  7. http://elections.gmu.edu/early_vote_2008.html
  8. http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16495705
  9. http://www.chieftain.com/news/local/article_322cccba-e3e1-11df-9a7b-001cc4c03286.html
  10. Walker, Julian. "In-person absentee voting scheduled today in Va.", The Virginian-Pilot, October 27, 2012. Retrieved on October 27, 2012. 
  11. Absentee Voting. Retrieved on October 27, 2012.
  12. Walker, Julian. "Early voting period in Virginia has begun", The Virginian-Pilot, September 30, 2012. Retrieved on October 27, 2012. 

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