How Many States Have Early Voting? The Specific Rules Still Differ From State-To-State

As Election Day draws nearer, early voting is beginning in many states, so mark your calendars because this is an election you absolutely do not want to sit out. Early voting offers many benefits, including convenience and flexibility — something that's especially important in a country where Election Day is not a national holiday and voters must cast their ballot during working hours. Otherwise, they oftentimes face long lines at polling places before or after that period of time.

Early voting is traditionally perceived as a designated time prior to the election during which people can choose to vote in-person ahead-of-time instead of on Election Day. However, according to the National Council of State Legislators, early voting actually has three distinct options that differ from state-to-state in terms of permissibility.

In some states, early voting means that people can indeed cast an in-person ballot during a designated period prior to Election Day. In other states, early voting comes in the form of absentee voting. According to that method, a voter who previously requested a ballot by mail can return it either in-person or via mail by a designated deadline. Lastly, some states automatically mail a ballot to every single registered voter. Upon receiving the ballot, the voter can return it via mail prior to Election Day or choose to instead vote in person at designated polling sites, if a state provides them.

The National Council of State Legislators reports that, currently, 37 states and Washington, D.C. allow registered voters to cast an early vote in-person during a designated time period set by that state. A justification for why you are choosing to vote early is not required in these states.

Even if your state doesn't offer that option, however, all states are required to offer absentee ballots, which can be mailed in early. For example, 27 states and Washington, D.C. allow citizens to vote absentee without specifying a reason. Some states even allow voters to authorize a permanent absentee request, which allows voters to automatically receive an absentee ballot for every election. However, it is important to note that 20 states still require voters to specify why they are requesting an absentee ballot, which adds a tedious step to the process for some.

Interestingly, three states including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington allow for voting by mail, where mail-in ballots are automatically mailed to all registered voters who can then submit them by the designated deadline.

While many states clearly do offer a variety of early voting options, early voting is still not an option everywhere. Therefore, if you are interested in voting early, it is imperative that you look up your state's specific rules on early and absentee voting so you can ensure your voice is heard.