Ready, Set, Vote! Early Voting Begins

PHOTO: Louisiana Primary: What You Need to KnowDon Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
Landon Peterson peeks out of the voting booth while his mother Meghan votes March 20, 2012 at Christian union Church in Metamora, Illinois. White

The general election isn't 47 days away--it's happening now.

On November 6 polls will open across the country and millions of voters will head out to cast their vote. But those voters won't be the sole contingent of Americans who decide the outcome of the general election. Rather, they'll be joined by another group, a smaller yet very sizable percentage for whom voting day might be a faint memory: the early voters.

The first polls will open this coming Friday, September 21, in the solidly red state of South Dakota. Next week the polls will open in the first swing state- Iowa- on September 27. By the time the next jobs report comes out October 5, another key swing state- Ohio, will have also opened up their polls to early voters.

  • How important is early voting in a presidential election?

Absentee ballots have already been mailed out in several states including North Carolina and Hawaii. In North Carolina, absentee ballots were mailed out on Friday, September 7, the day after Barack Obama accepted his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Back in 2008, 56 percent of the total vote in North Carolina was cast through early and absentee voting.

Early in-person and absentee voting is a popular form of casting a ballot in the modern age where travel is frequent, schedules are busy, and aversion to standing in line is ever increasing thanks to technology.

"Since 2000 the rate of increase has been 50 percent in every presidential election" says Paul Gronke, Director of the Early Voting Center at Reed College. "In 2000 it was about 15 percent, in 2004 it was about 22 percent, in 2008 it was about 33 percent."

Some states are much more lenient with their early voting options than other states, which means that the option is more popular in certain places than others. But in several key swing states like Florida, Nevada and Colorado, more than half of the state's total votes could already be cast by election day, if trends from 2008 hold.

In 2008, 58 percent of the vote in Nevada came in via early voting. In Florida the numbers were roughly the same- 57.3 percent, and in Colorado, 63 percent voted by mail-in ballot (this is how the state of Colorado classifies their votes.) In Ohio and Iowa, the numbers were a minority, but still sizable- 30 percent and 36 percent of the vote respectively was cast through early voting, according to number from the secretary of state's offices for the aforementioned states.

While the demographics of early voters differ state to state, Gronke notes that generally, early voters tend to be more partisan.

"The broad brush strokes is that people who vote early tend to have their mind made up, so they tend to be a bit more partisan, a bit more ideological, a bit more informed about politics," Gronke says.

Since different states have different rules about early voting- some only allow absentee voting with an excuse, some open their polls to all registered voters more than a month in advance of election- specific strategies for mobilizing early voters differs from place to place. However, the constant rule to abide by- timing is everything, and getting those voters excited when those ballots are mailed or polls are opened is the key.

"In 2008 in Florida Obama's first big get out the vote rally was the day that early voting opened," Gronke notes.

The campaigns may have 47 days between now and the poll closings, but the election is already under way.

"The election is started," says Gronke. "Here we go."