Absentee and Early Voting

The idea of “banking” votes with absentee ballots is attractive, but be aware of its limitations in voter engagement projects. Mobilizing turnout to early voting polling places may be a better bet.

More and more states are offering opportunities for voting that don’t require going to the polls on Election Day. Fifteen states allow any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot. Sixteen states offer polling locations that are open before Election Day. One state, Oregon, conducts all its elections by mail. Check with your local state and county election authorities to find out what the rules are where you work, or take a look at the Election Reform Information Project’s comprehensive online guide.

Conventional campaigns often push absentee voting to their supporters to “get their vote in the bank.” The idea is that people who have already voted can’t be swayed by last minute events or negative advertising. Moreover, every identified supporter who votes early is one less person the campaign has to contact during GOTV work. Early voting reduces the workload at the end of the campaign.

But in marginalized communities, absentee voting has downsides:

For these reasons, voter engagement projects should think hard about whether to push absentee voting in their campaigns. On the other hand, everyone working on the project who can do so should vote by absentee ballot –they may be too busy on Election Day to make it to the polls.

More and more states and cities are likely to move to absentee ballots because voting by mail is cheaper to manage. Community organizations need to become prepared to train new voters in the procedures or some of those less acculturated to citizenship are likely to drop out of the process.

Early voting polling places provide opportunities for voter engagement

Early voting polling places offers many of the advantages of absentee voting, and none of the problems. Mobilizing your membership, base and volunteers on days when early voting polls are open eases the GOTV crunch by spreading intense turnout work over time. Take advantage of the opportunities offered by early voting: