Vote Earth

Have Plans on Election Day? Vote Early!

The History of Voting Early

Early voting didn’t just start in 2016 — it first began at the start of our democracy. When the concept of voting was first introduced, the process was held over several days to ensure that voters had enough time to travel to county courthouses. In fact, the first presidential election was held on December 15, 1788, and did not end until January 10, 1789

Voting early was extremely popular during the Civil War. Soldiers mailed absentee ballots to family members in order to cast their vote for the election. In fact, around 12% of Ohio’s votes for the 1864 presidential election were accounted for by qualified absentee military ballots. This was a process that would later be formalized in the 1900s to ensure that ballots were sent directly to election officials and could be done so by ordinary citizens. However, in order to do so, voters needed to provide a pre-approved excuse for sending the absentee ballot. 

The trend of voting early by mail continued to surge in 1978 when California lifted the requirement that a voter provide a reason to refrain from voting in-person. From there, other states partook in the movement with Texas offering early voting in-person in the 1980s, followed by Florida, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee, and Iowa in the 1990s. 

In 2001, a federal appeals case challenged the no-excuse absentee voting process of Oregon. The Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the election must be closed on Election Day — simply put, voters must cast their ballots no later than Election Day, but the law does not prevent anyone from voting earlier

Vote Early Day: A National Holiday

While not necessarily a new concept, voting early really started to gain traction during the 2016 Presidential Election. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, more than 41% of ballots were cast before Election Day in 2016, with 17% of votes cast in-person, and 24% cast by mail. 

The coronavirus changed the way we do a lot of things, and voting was one of them. In 2020, many states changed their election processes in order to accommodate growing concerns over the pandemic. To avoid unknowingly spreading the virus, states offered the options to vote by mail-in absentee ballots or vote early. Even states that were restrictive in voting options — like Connecticut — had extended absentee voting to those eligible, in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID. By October 27, 2020, over 5 million voters had already casted their ballots.

Currently, forty-six states — as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — offer early in-person voting as well as mail-in election ballots. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, early in-person voting can start as early as 55 days before an election, and typically ends a few days before Election Day.

There are two kinds of early voters: those who choose to send an absentee ballot, and those who have to since they can not make it to the polls. Those who choose to vote early do so when they have come to the decision on who they wish to vote for. Typically, those who vote early research their candidate and will not be swayed by new information that may arise and in turn will not regret casting their ballot early. Others will wait until they feel they have enough information. But either way, voting early has changed the way politicians release information. 

Campaigns have not been holding back when it comes to releasing damaging information they may have about an opponent. We’ve previously witnessed what is known as the “October Surprise,” when a candidate releases harmful information about an opponent shortly before Election Day, as an attempt to influence voters. Now, since more people are voting early, campaigns are releasing this information earlier, allowing the opponent to respond and thus giving the media the opportunity to fact check any damning accusations. So rather than being less informed by Vote Early Day, voters are now becoming more informed.

Want to vote early? Check out our resources on locations, absentee ballots, and drop boxes.

Whether you choose to vote early or in person this Election Day, be sure to read up on the candidates in your local elections, research those who pledge to protect our environment, and VOTE EARTH. Check out EARTHDAY.ORG’s campaign Vote Earth to find out if you’re registered to vote, and for more information on how you can Invest in Our Planet this Election Day.