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 short summary of the Federal Appeals Court hearing on voter ID in Wisconsin had two interesting statements from the judges.
Adelman found some 300,000 people in Wisconsin do not have IDs and determined requiring people to show IDs at the polls would discount far more legitimate votes than fraudulent ones. He concluded voter impersonation — the only kind of fraud the voter ID law would curb — is essentially nonexistent, noting state officials could not cite any examples of it.
But Sykes said Adelman’s findings are “hard to reconcile” with a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law. Easterbrook also questioned how Adelman could render his ruling in light of that decision.
“He took evidence and found the Supreme Court was wrong,” Easterbrook said.
Indiana also claims a particular interest in preventing voter fraud in response to the problem of voter registration rolls with a large number of names of persons who are either deceased or no longer live in Indiana. While the record contains no evidence that the fraud SEA 483 addresses—in-person voter impersonation at polling places—has actually occurred in Indiana, such fraud has occurred in other parts of the country, and Indiana’s own experience with voter fraud in a 2003 mayoral primary demonstrates a real risk that voter fraud could affect a close election’s outcome. There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of a State’s interest in counting only eligible voters’ votes. Finally, Indiana’s interest in protecting public confidence in elections, while closely related to its interest in preventing voter fraud, has independent significance, because such confidence encourages citizen participation in the democratic process.
The objection some scholars have is that the evidence is wrong, and that calls into serious question the basis upon which the Court rendered it’s decision.
There was no evidence of in-person voter impersonation in Indiana (see page 8 here) and there is no evidence in Wisconsin, either. The 2003 mayoral primary fraud case involved absentee ballots, a method of casting a ballot that does not require a voter ID. Thus, the 2003 case is irrelevant for Crawford, and is irrelevant in Wisconsin.
Perhaps the evidence in the Wisconsin case was different from Indiana. Perhaps there was not a single, irrelevant case of absentee voter fraud that could be used to justify the imposition of voter id requirements. Perhaps proportionally more voters in Wisconsin lack a photo ID than in Indiana.
And perhaps the quotes in the story are incomplete.
But they seem to imply that the facts from a different case in a different state with a different body of evidence cannot possibly yield a different conclusion than the Crawford case. I hope that’s not the way that evidence works in the Courts.
Rick Hasen reports on his blog. Follow to find links to the decision and other materials.
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!
My comments about my time spent as an election observer in Ukraine are featured in this week’d electionline.org newsletter:
‘Don’t go, just don’t go.’
‘You realize you just spent a week’s wages on that souvenir?’
By Paul Gronke
Those two quotations — the first from a concerned coworker before I left and the second from my translator at the end of the mission — reflect much of my experience as an election observer for the OSCE/ODHIR mission to Ukrainian presidential election on May 25, 2014.
The mission to Ukraine was my third time as an election observer for ODIHR. Previously, I’ve served as an observer for the Albanian parliamentary election in June 2013 and the Kyrgyz presidential election in October 2011.
While many of my friends and colleagues were intrigued by the trip to Kyrgyzstan, and a bit jealous of my mid summer trip to Albania, the Ukrainian mission — for obvious reasons — prompted the most interest and concern. ….
To read the rest, go to this week’s electionline.org newsletter.
… more importantly, the “postmark” rule elevates the individual interest in having their ballot count above the collective interest in determining the outcome of an election fairly and efficiently.
The individual franchise is important because it helps to assure that political leaders are responsive to the public and lends legitimacy to the actions of political leaders.
We should work to assure that every Oregonian and every American has ready access to the ballot. This is why Oregon adopted vote by mail and is why many states have moved to hybrid election systems, with election-day, vote-by-mail, and early in-person balloting. We should work to develop new technologies that may allow for Internet voting in the future.
But we should also try to make sure that elections are decided quickly, without unnecessary delay. If this requires voters to remember to mail a ballot three days before the election or deliver it by hand to one of many ballot drop-box locations, this is a reasonable compromise.
Hat tip to Doug Chapin:
NCSL Election Administration Research Database will be an invaluable tool for scholars, advocates, and others interested in studying and improving election administration. Here’s hoping this kicks the field forward!
My good friend Tova Wang sent me this headline from the Columbus Post Dispatch:
Early Voting Hasn’t Boosted Ohio Turnout
In support of this headline, reporter compares turnout in only three elections, only statewide, and only in presidential contests. This is analysis is as unrevealing–and potentially misleading–as imaginable.
The key to understanding a complex process like voter turnout is to try to maximize, to the degree feasible, variation and covariation among all the important causes (variables). Political scientists often consider dozens or more different influences on turnout and estimate highly sophisticated multivariate models.
But even a relatively simple exploration can be done far better than the one conducted by the Dispatch.
Let’s start with the presidency. There are obvious reasons that the nation, and the world, focuses on the American presidential election. It is almost always the most consequential election held in this country for the most powerful and influential political leader in the world.
But all these reasons are why the presidential contest may be the worst election in order to discern the turnout effects of something like early voting. In the face of a billion or more dollars in campaign spending, blanket media coverage, and organizational mobilization, the impact of early voting is going to be small. We may be able to uncover turnout effects, but the context makes it difficult.
At a bare minimum, compare midterm and presidential contests, and if at all possible, include off-cycle elections.
Next, even if limited to a study within one state, there is no good reason not to compare trends across counties. In a large, heterogeneous state like Ohio, not only do the conditions for voting change across the state, but the voters change as well.
The reporter seems to recognize that African Americans in 2008 responded differently to the Obama/McCain contest in 2008 than they did to the Kerry/Bush campaign in 2004. And the reporter notes that, due to legal uncertainties, the hours and days of early voting varied across counties in 2012.
So why not compare turnout effects across counties? By not doing so, the reporter–whether realizing it or not–assumes that the all voting rules and procedures in the state of Ohio are identical and more importantly, that all Ohioans are identical insofar as they responded in different years to different candidates and to different election laws and procedures.
Two esteemed political scientists are quoted in the article and seemed to try to educate the reporter on these points.
Paul Beck’s quote starts with a general point which I think does not accurately reflect the state of the literature on early voting at this stage, but more important is the end of Beck’s quote, where he highlights the most consequential reasons that turnout may be higher or lower:
“People who vote early are people who are typically going to vote anyway,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “So, early voting hasn’t really succeeded in turning out more people to vote. We’ve made it a lot easier to vote, but on the other hand, some people are very discouraged about politics and might not care how easy it is to vote.”
John Green’s quote, on the other hand, is exactly on point in my view:
“If all things are equal, early voting would increase voter turnout, but all things aren’t equal,” said John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “But there are many factors in each election: the closeness of the race, the excitement to vote for a candidate or the degree of anger in the electorate.”
I could not have put it better. Early voting may not have increased turnout in Ohio, but without at least considering these other factors, the title and thrust of the story are not accurate.
Doug Chapin notes that postmarks are not consistently applied. Shocking!
I think the policy solution here is pretty simple:i f you have an election day deadline for all ballots, then the postmark is not important.
Apropos of Doug Chapin’s recent posting on the proposed change to a “postmark” deadline in California, this study by the Washington Policy Center may be apropos.
The Center looked at the five largest counties in Washington and Oregon, both of which have full vote by mail with drop boxes, but Washington allows ballots to arrive if postmarked by Election Day, while Oregon requires ballots to arrive by 8 pm on Election Day.
The results are reproduced below, and show higher late ballot rates in Washington.
I will have more to say about this later, but at first glance, it appears that an Election Day deadline may serve voters better, prompting more to return their ballots on time.