Election day may still be weeks away, but voting for this year’s midterm elections has already begun.
North Carolina officially kicked off this election season on Sept. 9, when — nearly two months before Election Day — its county election commissions began sending out mail-in ballots.
And on Friday, voters can start voting in person in Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming.
These wider windows to participate in American democracy come as a majority of states allow mail-in voting for all eligible voters and most states have at least two weeks of early voting.
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked interest in these two voting methods in the 2020 election, when, according to a report by the United States Election Assistance Commission, only 30.5% of voters voted in person on election day, compared to 58.2% in 2018 and 54.5% in 2016.
Election officials expect these trends to continue in many communities, leaving the election to focus less and less on what happens on a Tuesday in November and more on what happens in the preceding weeks.
For many voters, that means Election Day has become something of a last call.
“If you haven’t dealt with it yet, wait no more,” says Paul Linnell, deputy chief electoral officer for the Minnesota secretary of state’s office, of the role of Election Day in a state with a 46. – day of the early voting period.
The longest election season of any state is in North Carolina, where, according to the state board of elections earlier this month, nearly 53,000 voters had requested a mail-in ballot for the general election.
Given early voting trends in North Carolina’s Durham County, any explosive news about a candidate landing as an “October surprise” won’t necessarily sway local results, says Derek Bowens, chief electoral officer of the county.
“I suppose that might have an effect. But usually in our larger elections, in even years, before Election Day, the majority of our voters have voted,” Bowens adds, noting that a “surprise of ‘august’ could be different. story.
In Buncombe County, North Carolina, more pre-election votes also mean more foot traffic, phone calls and computers at the elections office, which hits “near peak activity” in September, according to Corinne Duncan, the local election manager.
“When voters vote early, it means we have more votes than we can pre-process and verify before Election Day,” Duncan adds, referring to state law that allows election officials to begin polling. prepare absentee ballots for counting before election day. “This canvassing period is extremely busy for us, and we’re using it to make sure everything is audited. And so if we can get some of that moving forward, that really helps.”
Yet in some North Carolina counties, Election Day remains the day to vote for many voters, says Devon Houck, the Ashe County Board of Elections director who has been tracking voting patterns in this year’s primary election.
“We haven’t had an excessive number of absentees by mail. And we’re an older county, but we’re also a highly Republican county. And so I think that makes a difference as well,” Houck said.
Since 2020, there has been a growing difference in preference for postal voting that falls along partisan lines. With many GOP officials targeting mail-in ballot laws, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they prefer to vote by mail.
Whichever way voters choose to vote, however, Houck says for election officials, at least one thing is certain.
“Something my friends used to tell me, ‘Oh, well, you only work one day a year.’ And I say, ‘No,'” Houck laughs. “It takes a lot more than what the public actually knows to prepare for an election.”