Today's Americans are often busy or discouraged by the political process. Turnout for presidential elections in recent decades has rarely exceeded 60 percent and satisfaction with government is at an all-time low. Because polling places are often difficult to locate and staff, can be plagued with long lines, and remain stuck to business-hour schedules, states should increase efforts to expand pre-Election Day voting. With early voting, no-fault absentee voting, and vote-by-mail programs, states could increase overall turnout and hopefully, expand the electorate to populations traditionally marginalized in our political process.
Several states covered in this report already permit some voting before Election Day. Indeed, as the Commission noted, "nearly a third of voters in the 2012 Election cast their ballot before Election Day, more than double the rate of the 2000 election."
Colorado, as of 2013, has an all-mail elections system. Between 22 and 18 days before an election, officials mail out ballots, which can be returned by mail, in-person at a voter service and polling center, or at a secure drop box. Additionally, eligible voters may register and vote in-person at a number of locations until and through Election Day. Elections officials can also track ballot movement through an online system -- another tool recommended by the Commission. Because of the many conveniences afforded voters through its comprehensive system, Colorado gets top marks.
Georgia, Alaska, and Florida allow early voting and no-fault absentee voting, giving voters additional options to cast their ballots. Arkansas and Louisiana both permit early voting, but do not allow no-fault absentee voting. This may be due to the risks associated with relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the votes on time and to the proper location. As the Commission recommended -- and as Colorado practices -- ballot tracking mechanisms should be used for absentee or by-mail voting to ensure on-time arrival and delivery of ballots, along with any remedial measures needed in advance of Election Day.
Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Kentucky do not allow any early voting. (All require excuses for absentee voting.) North Carolina, which previously had one of the most progressive sets of electoral laws, has since drastically cut its practices. As of the time of this writing, the Supreme Court granted the state a stay after the 4th Circuit, in reversing the lower court's decision, upheld same-day-registration and out-of-precinct ballot acceptance for the upcoming mid-terms. A full trial on the merits of the case, including the state's new photo ID requirement for 2016, will be held next year; for the upcoming mid-terms, voters should expect elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct ballot counting. Early voting has been limited in the Tar Heel state: whereas voters once had 17 days to vote before Election Day, they now have ten. (County boards still must provide early voting for the same amount of hours as in the last election, and may do so by opening more early voting sites or extending hours at their existing ones. One caveat is that boards may seek a waiver of this requirement.)
As the Commission noted, "[e]arly voting is here to stay." Early voting, vote-by-mail, and no-excuse absentee voting allow voters to vote at times that fit their schedules. We urge states to not only adopt these reforms, but also implement them with such other reforms as Election Day and/or same-day registration; in combination, they may help to boost overall turnout. States with same-day registration have consistently higher turnouts -- especially of low-income individuals -- than those without it, and at least some of that added turnout is a direct result of the practice.
|FINDINGS BY STATE|