OLR Research Report

October 29, 2004




By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

You wanted to know (1) the number of states that allow electors to cast their votes early, before Election Day on November 2; (2) the process in place in these states for casting early votes; (3) how effective these processes have been; and (4) the issues that should be considered before allowing early voting in Connecticut.


All states allow voters the option of voting by absentee ballot before the election if they cannot get to the poll on Election Day because of illness, disability, or absence from the state on business. However, a growing number of states have redefined Election Day to mean the last possible day to vote, rather than the only day, by allowing voters to cast their ballots without an excuse, either in person or by mail, before Election Day. This report focuses on the latter type of early voting, as opposed to absentee voting.

Currently, 31 states permit “no excuse” early voting, up from just 11 states eight years ago. Of the 31 states, 19 give voters the options of casting their ballot early by either using a mail-in paper ballot (the absentee ballot) prior to the day of the election or visiting an election official's office or satellite voting station and casting a vote in person. Seven states permit early voting by mail ballot only. The remaining six states allow only in-person early voting. Included in the 31 states are

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, and North Dakota—states that substantially expanded or began early voting after the 2000 presidential election.

The time period for early voting varies by state, but according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) most often early voting takes place from 10 to 14 days before the election and generally ends on the Friday or Saturday immediately preceding it. Visit the website of Texas' secretary of the state at elections/phamphlets/early vote.shtml for an example of the complete process for early voting.

The concept of early voting appears to have been the brainchild of election officials who wanted to increase voter turnout. The idea is that if given more days to vote, electors who are normally too busy to get to the polls on a single day would actually vote. Although the National Association of Secretaries of the State (NASA) reports anecdotal evidence that early voting boosts voter turnout, studies have not borne this out. However, election officials believe that early voting has, at a minimum, slowed the decline in voter turnout. In addition, early voting relieves the stress on voting centers (and machines) of accommodating a majority of electors (i.e., all electors except those eligible to vote by absentee ballot) voting on a single day and makes it easier for election officials to manage the elections. Lastly, depending on the available methods, it can create multi-channel voting, giving the public another option for voting.

On the other hand, opponents of early voting argue that (1) it increases opportunities for vote fraud; (2) early voters do not have the same information as those who vote on Election Day, especially in states where early voting begins before candidate debates end; (3) voters who send in ballots by mail give up the privacy of the voting booth; and (4) the nation loses out on one of its last remaining community acts.

Issues facing states considering early voting include:

● Identifying any qualifications for early voting

● The period for early voting (i.e., days and hours)

● When setting the period for early voting, if there is sufficient time for printing and distributing election materials

● The method of early voting (i.e., mail-in or in-person)

● Where any in-person voting would take place

● Accountability and security of voting materials where early voting is available at voting facilities over a number of days

● Maintaining secrecy for electors voting by mail

● Whether early voters can vote outside their electoral district


Laws stipulating when people can vote and how they register to vote vary by state. A recent NCSL report entitled “Absentee and Early Voting and a recent NASA survey of its members show that 31 states, with residents making up more than one-half of the total U.S. population, offer voters a chance to cast their vote early. Election experts predict that the percentage of votes cast this year before Election Day will double those cast before Election Day 2000, from 15 to 30%. Table 1 shows the 20 states that give voters the choice to vote early by absentee ballot or in person. In some states, the absentee ballot must be cast in the presence of an election official while in other states it mail be cast as a traditional absentee ballot—by mail.

Table 1: States With Dual Methods Of Early Voting













New Mexico

North Carolina

North Dakota

South Dakota






Source: NASA Early Voting Survey

Only three states, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin permit early voting by mail ballot only. Although we have included Oregon, it is important to note that all voting in Oregon is conducted by mail ballot.

Eight states, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia allow only in-person early voting using traditional voting machines. Some of these states permit voting only at traditional voting places (e.g., schools and town halls). Others have, in addition to these places, established satellite-voting stations at such places as grocery stores and shopping malls. For more information on methods of early voting visit NASA's website at For the results of NASA's survey on early voting visit We have attached a copy of the results for your information.

The periods designated for early voting in these 31 states vary widely with typical periods ranging from five to 15 days before Election Day. For example, during this 2004 election, Iowa voters could have cast their ballots at the auditors' office as early as September 23rd (and at satellite offices starting October 16th); voters in Oklahoma cannot begin casting their ballot until October 29th; and voters in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, North Dakota, and Texas began casting their votes on October 18th.