If you follow EVIC you already know that early and absentee voting laws and policies are complex and vary widely across the fifty states. That’s why EVIC publishes an early and absentee voting calendar and spreadsheet for every general election.
This year, we’ve updated our products and hope the additional information encourages further dialogue about how these rules affect voters. So, make sure to try out all the new bells and whistles. Below, we explain what our information means and provide some basic context. If you’re worried that we misrepresent any state’s election law or policy, do not hesitate to let us know and post below.
Finally, EVIC wants to thank Jonathan Harvey and Tony Moreno, from Reed College CIS, who helped program and design the new calendar. I also want to thank Alex Arpaia, who helped gather the early and absentee voting data.
Early In Person Voting: Does the state provide early in-person (EIP) voting? Thirty-five states and DC offer EIP voting. Many of the states that do not offer EIP are in the Atlantic Northeast, while EIP has been most popular in the South. In fact, data from the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Elections Study shows that 36% of Southern voters cast their ballot in-person before Election Day. This number has been on the rise since at least 1996, when early voting data first became available. The Black early voting electorate has also seen a significant increase starting in 2008, though it began to grow earlier in some states such as North Carolina.
Voting by Mail: Does the state provide vote-by-mail? We only define a voting system as vote-by-mail if by-mail voting is the only voting method. The three VBM states are Oregon, Washington, and (for the first time) Colorado. In VBM states, voters are encouraged to return their ballots to drop boxes located around the state, and needn’t visit a polling station (I’ve always wanted to know whether they get “I voted” stickers at the drop boxes. Any insight would be appreciated).
No Excuse Absentee: Does the state provide no-excuse absentee voting (NXA)? All states must provide an absentee voting option for citizens with an excuse—for example, being too sick to visit a polling station. Twenty-eight states and DC allow for absentee voting without an excuse. NXA is most popular in the West, with more than 50% of Western respondents to the 2010 Current Population Survey reporting that they cast by-mail ballots. Though early in-person voting has received significantly more political attention (most attempts to change state election legislation focus on EIP, not absentee voting–check out these two links) there are reasons to believe that absentee voting is more prone to fraud or more likely (though still not very likely) to cause election turmoil (note immediately below).
Post Mark: When deciding whether to accept a by-mail ballot, does the state consider the postmark date, or only when the ballot arrives? Thirteen states and DC consider the postmark (PM) date when deciding whether to accept an absentee ballot. At least one regular contributor to EVIC believes that this policy is bad.
Date EIP Opens / Closes: On what day does early in-person voting begin and end? Nine states (Minnesota, South Dakota, Mississippi, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Missouri, Iowa, Wyoming) let voters turn in ballots in-person in as early as late September. A number of the proposed state legislative changes to election law affect the length of the early voting period (note the links above, especially Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana).
EIP Weekday Hours: If the state provides EIP, during what hours is EIP open on weekdays (Monday through Friday)? The number of hours available for voters to vote early, either per day or as a total across the early voting period, has been the subject of significant controversy across the country. Some states provide a minimum number of hours that an early voting office must stay open, but allows the office to stay open for longer.
EIP Weekend: Are early in-person voting locations open on the weekend? If so, on what days and at what times? Most states that offer EIP voting either require at least one day of weekend voting (usually the final Saturday before the election, but not always) or let the particular county decide whether to permit weekend EIP voting. Florida received significant attention during Election 2012 when Florida HB 1355 took away early voting on the last Sunday before the election—the same day that, in 2008, a large portion of the Black early voting electorate came out to vote.
Last day to request an absentee ballot: What is the last day that a voter can request an absentee ballot for the November general election? Though many states let voters request absentee ballots up until the Monday before the election, on multiple occasions state election officials told me that voters would do well to request an absentee ballot well before then. The state needs time, they noted, to send the voter the absentee ballot, and the voter needs time to then send the ballot back in. In other words, request your absentee ballot as early as possible!
Last day voters can return an absentee ballot: What is the last possible day that the state election office will accept a voter’s absentee ballot? This date is often November 4th (Election Day), but not always. For example, the state may have a different final date for returning an absentee ballot in-person than by-mail. Also, if the state considers the postmark date on absentee ballots, them the state may accept the absentee ballot after Election Day as long as the ballot is postmarked on or before Election Day.
Date VBM ballots mailed: This only refers to the three states that provide VBM. The three full VBM states (WA, OR, CO) send ballots out at around mid-October.
Date absentee ballots mailed: The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires states to send absentee ballots to such voters at least 45 days prior to the election—for this election, September 20th. Many states also send their domestic absentee ballots on or very near this September 20th date as well.
Phone numbers: Contact information for the election officials in the respective state.
Websites: Either the state’s Secretary of State webpage or a page specifically for elections.
The Voting Information Project just released a new app that should make life easier for voters in all states. New technology already helps voters, poll workers, election administrators deal with the mayhem of elections, and it seems inevitable that the role of handheld devices will only increase in the coming years.
The app works only on Apple products now, but should be ready for Android devices by Election Day. Check out a post about the app from PEW’s news page here. If you happen to use the device, let us know in the comments how it works!
On May 21st, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed into law CS/HB 7103. The bill includes changes to absentee voting laws, to requirements for the quality of voting technology, to the word limits of constitutional amendments, and to many other areas of election administration that are both visible and invisible to the voting public.
At EVIC, we are following the changes made to early voting. Some view HB 7103 as a victory for early voting advocates and a defeat for Republicans (try this article, or this one, or this one), because HB 7103 is considered a redaction of HB 1355, a controversial piece of legislation that some argue caused over 200,000 to not vote in 2012 and created 6-9 hour lines for those who stuck around. Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith claim that Democratic, African American, Hispanic, young, and first-time voters were disproportionally impacted by the HB 1355. Other survey results don’t speak directly to the impact on minority groups, but do show that lines in Florida were longer than anywhere else in the country.
Will HB 7103 make things better? Why did 13 Democrats in the Florida State Senate oppose the bill? The devil is in the details, and these details may derail the hopes of early voting advocates (here is a PDF of the HB 7103).
Let’s start with section 13 (pg. 24-26 of the PDF)–where we find the most significant changes to early voting:
“The supervisor [of elections] may also designate any city hall, permanent public library facility, fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as early voting sites” (lines 681-686)
“a supervisor may designate one early voting site per election in an area of the county that does not have any of the eligible early voting locations” (689-691)
“Each county shall, at a minimum, operate the same total number of early voting sites for a general election which the county operated for the 2012 general election” (694-697)
“Early voting shall begin on the 10th day before an election that contains state or federal races and end on the 3rd day before the election, and shall be provided for no less than 8 hours and no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period” (700-704)
“In addition, early voting may be offered at the discretion of the supervisor of elections on the 15th, 14th, 13th, 12th, 11th, or 2nd day before an election that contains state or federal races for at least 8 hours per day, but not more than 12 hours per day” (704-708)
The first provision means that there will may be greater use of satellite early voting locations, and as Bob Stein has shown, this would increase the use of early voting and voter turnout overall. An increase in the minimum number of early voting hours per day could make it easier to vote early for some citizens. Discretionary authority to offer early voting on additional days returns the state to the situation prior to HB1355.
However, discretionary authority is not mandated requirements. Only time will tell if county supervisors will take advantage of the ability to offer early voting for more days and at more places. The bill contains no additional funding for local officials, so how likely is it that counties will pay for early voting out of their own budgets? It’s possible that early voting could be very accessible in wealthy counties and relatively inaccessible in poorer counties, creating the same kind of racial and ethnic disparities Herron and Smith point to in 2012.
Is this the only change to early voting in Florida? There is one more provision that caught our eye. From section 19 of 7103:
“The supervisor of elections shall upload into the county’s election management system by 7 p.m. on the day before the election the results of all early voting and absentee ballots that have been canvassed and tabulated by the end of the early voting period. Pursuant to ss. 101.5614(9), 101.657, and 101.68(2), the tabulation of votes cast or the results of such uploads may not be made public before the close of the polls on election day” (1100-1107)
If we are reading this correctly, this is a major change in Florida election law, and early in-person and absentee ballot returns are not going to be made available for public scrutiny until after the election. If this is an accurate reading, vote mobilization efforts in Florida will be substantially harmed, since campaigns will no longer be able to track who has already returned their ballots. It may be that we are misreading the intent of the term “tabulation” which refers to actual candidate totals and not information on voter turnout. We look forward to hearing that we have misinterpreted this provision.
CORRECTION: We are very pleased to learn that Section 19 of 7103 does not impact election reporting. A state election official from Florida has let us know that the provision instead requires supervisors of elections to internally upload early voting decisions prior to Election Day. Glad to hear about the correction!
A front-page piece in the NY Times by Adam Liptak focuses on one of the more serious consequences of the rise in absentee voting.
First, absentee votes are more likely to fall prey to innocuous mistakes that lead to rejections. The article notes that “election officials reject almost 2 percent of ballots cast by mail, double the rate for in-person voting”.
Second, fraud is both theoretically easier to commit through absentee voting, and there have been more documented instances of absentee voting fraud in the last several years than in person voting fraud. Several of the most notable instances of absentee voting fraud are included in the article.
The article does not withhold the irony that those who focus on making voting more efficient and fraud less likely for in person voting may be missing the point. The reality on the ground is that absentee voting is a growing phenomenon and is much more fertile ground for potential fraud and ballot mistakes
The article is a fine read. It touches for a moment upon the essential tension between the “elemental promises of democracy” that are questioned when voting can no longer be trusted, and the democratizing effects of a balloting system that makes voting available to so many more people. Since absentee voting appears to be a permanent fixture in US elections for the time being, this is a tension we need to continue dealing with
At last, we have completed our early voting calendar for the 2012 general election. We have early and absentee voting information on all 50 states (including DC). If you would prefer to see the early voting information in spreadsheet format, here is a link to our working file.
A few notes on the calendar. First, all the information was confirmed by contacting the individual Secretary of State Offices. Second, there are at the moment still a few glitches when trying to save a PDF or print a copy of the calendar on a Mac computer, but that should be sorted out soon. Finally, any questions regarding the information on the calendar can be addressed through comments on the blog or by contacting EVIC via email.
We’d like to thank James Hicks for designing and programming the calendar for EVIC.
It became clear yesterday that the early voting information spreadsheet was a useful tool for many to use along with the early voting calendar. Thus, we wanted to clean the spreadsheet up a bit more, to make sure it is clear to all interested parties. The old spreadsheet had internal notes from previous years that are unrelated to the current information.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions about the content.
In a recent editorial, the Oregonian asserted that more citizens are choosing to wait to turn in their ballots until Election Day. The piece claims that this behavior reveals a sort of synthesis of the pro- and anti-mail ballot arguments rolled into one: Election Day traditions are able to survive even while no one is forced to follow them.
This is a nice idea, and I have no doubt there are still quite a few citizens who vote on Election Day because that’s how their parents did it. But the data just does not support the claim that more citizens are suddenly beginning to realize the value (whether it be intrinsic—as the article asserts—or perhaps even utilitarian) of last-day voting.
Here is a graph showing the number of ballots casted on Election Day in Oregon elections from 2000-2010, as a percentage of total ballots submitted:
Percentage of Ballots Returned on Final Day of Voting
(Data found at: Oregon Secretary of State.)
Since 2000, the level of last-day voting has decreased a few times, but has regularly hovered around 25%. It is not that I think the Oregonian is plain wrong—I have no reason to doubt that a portion of the individuals voting on Election Day do so because their parents did the same—but these numbers do not reveal any sort of aggregate chance in behavior.
Notice much change? It is not that I think the Oregonian is utterly false—the 20-odd % that still chooses to vote on election day can make those decisions for whatever reason they want—but there is no trend in the last 10 years that seems to show Oregon citizens as changing their behavior in any aggregate way.
Now, the Oregonian may have a hunch about this new trend, but it will take additional research and evidence to convince me otherwise.
BTW – this post is not written by your regularly EVIC blogger, Paul. My name is Jacob Canter, and I’m the new RA for Paul. I’ll be adding to the blog every so often, hopefully providing something interesting to look at and think about. Feel free to ask questions and requests posts in the future.
This article is a brief overview of the place that election law scholarship can play in undergraduate education.
Forms of convenience voting—early in-person voting, voting by mail, absentee voting, electronic voting, and voting by fax—have become the mode of choice for >30% of Americans in recent elections. Despite this, and although nearly every state in the United States has adopted at least one form of convenience voting, the academic re- search on these practices is unequally distributed across important questions. A great deal of literature on turnout is counterbalanced by a dearth of research on campaign effects, election costs, ballot quality, and the risk of fraud. This article introduces the theory of convenience voting, reviews the current literature, and suggests areas for future research.
Forms of convenience votingearly in-person voting, voting by mail, absentee voting, electronic voting, and voting by faxhave be- come the mode of choice for >30% of Americans in recent elections. Despite this, and although nearly every state in the United States has adopted at least one form of convenience voting, the academic re- search on these practices is unequally distributed across important questions. A great deal of literature on turnout is counterbalanced by a dearth of research on campaign effects, election costs, ballot quality, and the risk of fraud. This article introduces the theory of convenience voting, reviews the current literature, and suggests areas for future research.