Poll workers sanitizing stations during early voting in Oklahoma primaries this year. (Graphic by COURIER/Denzel Boyd; AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Poll workers sanitizing stations during early voting in Oklahoma primaries this year. (Graphic by COURIER/Denzel Boyd; AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The coronavirus has made people rethink their voting options this November. We’ve broken down everything you need to know about early voting, from where you can vote early to what advantages early voting offers.

This article is part of COURIER’s Your Vote 2020 hub. For more stories from each of the battleground states, along with national reporting, visit the site here.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, countless Americans are looking for the safest voting options in the run up to the 2020 general election on November 3. Early voting—alongside absentee voting and voting by mail—is one option that allows registered voters more flexibility in how they vote.

The percentage of Americans using early voting alternatives continues to increase with each presidential election, accounting for reportedly 41% of total votes in the 2016 presidential election. And with the pandemic calling for social distancing, those options are helping save lives. Depending on what type of early voting your state allows, you may not have to be around anyone else, or—if you choose in-person early voting—you will face far smaller crowds.

Whether for health or other reasons, early voting may be the best option for you. Below, we answer some questions about where it’s available, why to vote early, and who can take part in early voting.

What is early voting?

There are two types of early voting: in-person early voting and in-person absentee voting. You can check out our breakdown of absentee ballots here.

In-person early voting is a convenient option for registered voters who have reasons that would prohibit them from voting on Election Day, who don’t want to mail in their ballot, or who simply want to avoid potentially long voting lines on November 3. 

What states offer early voting?

Early voting rules vary by state, so be sure to visit your state’s election office website for specific information. Currently, 40 states plus the District of Columbia allow for some form of early voting. The nine states that don’t offer pre-Election Day in-person voting options include Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina. Delaware has enacted early voting, but it won’t go into effect until 2022.

When is early voting available?

Early voting periods also vary by state, ranging from 46 days before the election to one or several days before Election Day. You should consult your local election office for guidance on your early voting window. Keep in mind that early voting in many states this year is being handled as in-person absentee voting, so you should check whether you need to first apply for your absentee ballot.

The earliest official early voting day in the United States is September 18, 2020. That day, states including Minnesota, South Dakota, and Virginia all allow in-person absentee voting. New Jersey, Michigan, Vermont, and Wyoming all also begin early voting 45 days before the election—check with your local election bureau on the official date.

Why should I vote early? What are the advantages to early voting?

There are several reasons to vote early in an election. First, a job or other commitment may hinder your ability to vote in-person on Election Day. Second, long lines are par for the course on election days (remember Georgia’s primary election in June?). Early voters will likely be facing shorter lines, making it easier to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

Additionally, it allows for time to handle any issues that arise, such as not knowing your polling place or not having the proper identification in states where that’s necessary.

Early voting can be helpful for parents with small children, as well, as it offers flexibility in arranging for childcare or other scheduling concerns that could arise on Election Day.  

What are the important things to know about early voting?

In-person early voting takes place before before Election Day. Keep in mind that most states do not require an excuse for early voting if you are voting in-person absentee this year. However, it’s important to check your state’s election office website for all early voting guidelines and dates, especially if early voting falls under in-person absentee rules. 

Ensure that you’ve registered to vote in time, and make sure that you consult with local election officials for all rules and timetables for early voting. Additionally, while crowds are smaller during early voting windows, this election year has defied almost all typical norms. With that in mind, you should make sure you wear your mask, adhere to social distancing rules, and bring hand sanitizer to the polling place.