Early Voting in Your State: A Voting Explainer from U.S. Vote Foundation

Why Vote Early?

The availability of early voting can make the difference between voting and not voting for many people who travel, who are working on Election Day, who need options for childcare while voting and more. Early voting can sometimes save you time with shorter lines to cast your ballot. Knowing when and how you can vote early, ensures that you can participate in the election from near or far away.

This practical “Explainer” on early voting options will clarify how you find the dates, locations, and rules for early voting in your state. While you may enjoy voting on Election Day, there are circumstances that can make early voting an excellent option.

Check the Early Voting Dates for Upcoming Elections in Your State

Early voting expands Election Day – sometimes by days, and sometimes by weeks. Depending on the state you live in, voting early may even be the preferred method. Voters need not feel daunted by voting precisely on Election Day, as early voting can give many options to plan and schedule voting into a busy calendar. The upshot, voting can be convenient!

A recent study, The Expansion of Voting Before Election Day, 2000–2024, from the Center for Election Information and Research (CEIR) confirmed some very good news for voters who are looking for options in how they vote. The report stated that “nearly 97% of all voting-age citizens will live in states that will offer at least one option to vote before election day in the 2024 [general] election.” In addition, the CEIR report cites research from multiple sources that shows “… more options to vote before election day mean more opportunities to identify and counteract any human error, machine breakdown, power outage, cyberattack, rumor campaign, or other potential issue that may arise,” which are added reasons to spread the voting period out beyond one day.

That likely leads you to the question ”When does early voting start in my state?” and ”What kind of early voting is available to me?” Look no further – U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote) has the information you are seeking.

Helpful Resources

Definitions of Methods and Types of Early Voting

In this Explainer, when we refer to early voting, we include all of the possibilities to cast your ballot before Election Day. There is more than one way to do that in many states.

Look up the Voting Methods and Options in Your State

As presented on each state-specific Voting Methods and Options page, US Vote offers these general definitions to the many early voting options:

Early Voting

— generally refers to voting prior to Election Day during specified periods and at specified early voting locations or in the election office, depending on what is offered locally. States refer to this voting method in various ways, including early voting, early in-person voting, advanced voting, absentee voting, vote-by-mail or in-person absentee voting.

In-Person Early Voting

— is an early voting method that allows a registered voter to go in-person to a specified early voting location to receive their ballot and vote. For states that allow “same-day registration and voting,” unregistered voters may be able to arrive, register to vote and cast their ballot together in a single visit.

Absentee Voting with Excuse

— is a form of early voting in states that require a reason for voters to vote-by-mail, or early in the election office, depending on the state’s allowable methods. To vote in this method, registered voters must send in an application to request an absentee ballot and specify for what reason they need to vote by absentee ballot. Only approved reasons will allow the voter to partake in this form of voting.

Absentee Voting without Excuse

— is also called “no-excuse absentee voting.” This is a form of early voting in states that allow all registered voters to request a ballot to vote-by-mail, or vote early in the election office depending on the state’s allowable methods. No special reason is required for registered voters to file their request for an absentee ballot.

All Mail Voting

— is a voting method adopted in certain states that chiefly conduct elections by mail. Registered voters are automatically sent a ballot to their voting residence address. If away from their voting residence, voters file a request for an absentee ballot to be sent to another address.

In-Person Absentee Voting

— is an early voting method that allows a voter to go in-person to a polling place or election office, depending on the state, and in one visit, complete the ballot request and immediately receive the ballot and vote, or receive a requested ballot and vote, or drop off a completed ballot.

Military Voting

— refers to an absentee ballot / vote-by-mail process that allows active-duty uniformed services members, their spouses and their eligible dependents, when away from their voting residence, to register and vote by absentee ballot in federal elections. All states offer this method of early voting to eligible military voters and their families.

Overseas Voting / Voting from Abroad

— refers to an absentee ballot / vote-by-mail process that allows most U.S. citizens of voting-age who reside or are temporarily outside the United States to register and vote by absentee ballot in federal elections. All states offer this method of early voting to eligible overseas citizen voters.

Note that a variety of terms, such as Advance Voting, may be used by some jurisdictions to describe their early voting process.

Go to the Overseas Vote Site to Learn More about Voting from Abroad

Which method of early voting suits you best?

As the definitions of early voting make clear, there are many options available. Not all states offer all options.

It is important to note, that while some states may not offer absentee voting by mail for all voters without an approved excuse or reason, some of those same states will allow in-person early voting at vote centers or at the local elections office. Most often registered voters can show up at an early voting location to cast their ballot early.

Early Voting in Your State

To prepare to vote early, start by familiarizing yourself with your state-specific guidelines, terminology and timelines. The little time spent preparing will be well worth it with the convenience and ease of voting that you will experience in return.

Below, in this section of our guide, you will inform you on how to identify the dates, locations and rules around early voting in your state.

Types of Early Voting Available in Your State

To find out which methods of early voting your state provides, start by visiting the U.S Vote Foundation Voting Methods and Options page for your state. The definitions explaining what these types of voting entail are explained on the same page, along with the list of what your state offers.

While not every state offers every type of early voting, there will usually be at least one option available.

State-Specific Early Voting Laws

Understanding your state’s specific early voting methods and any rules or processes that coincide is the key to a trouble-free voting experience. As an informed voter, you can then navigate to the best way for you to cast your ballot in your state.

We suggest that you consult U.S. Vote Foundation’s State Voter Information page for your state. Check the General Information section to access more detailed information about the forms of early voting offered and to understand the rules of your state.
Consider your situation in order to make the best choice for you: 

  • Will you be traveling during the period of the election? In such a case, applying for an absentee ballot to vote-by-mail might be the best option.
  • Will you be home but potentially unable to make it to the polls? If you live in a state that allows no-excuse absentee voting, an absentee vote-by-mail ballot may again be the ideal choice.
  • If you prefer to vote in person, and your state offers in-person early voting or in-person absentee voting, it is important to note the dates and times that these early voting options are available.
Voter Identification for Early Voting

Early voting is no different from other types of voting where ID is required. Every state can vary in terms of required and accepted voter ID.

The Identification section of U.S. Vote Foundation’s State Voter Information page for your state will give you the list of required and alternative ID’s for voting in your state. A driver’s license is the standard in most states, but options for non-photo IDs such as a voter registration card or birth certificate may be possible.

Don’t let ID get in the way of voting for you. First-time voters, especially those who registered by mail, must be prepared to present documentation that verifies their name and address. In the absence of the required ID, there are alternative routes available, such as signing an identity affidavit or casting a provisional ballot, to ensure that your vote is counted.

For more information on Voter ID and help to obtain it, see:

Can I Vote If I Don't Have an ID? Read all about it!

Checking the voter identification section of the State Voter Information page for your state is also essential to making sure you have the proper ID on hand to cast your ballot early.

Confirm the Early Voting Period

Every election has a specific set of dates and you will need to check the early voting period for each election in which you want to cast your ballot early. A good resource for this is U.S. Vote Foundation Election Dates and Deadlines tool.

Look up specific elections in your state and check for early voting dates and times.

Whether you reside in Alaska, where the early voting period starts fifteen days before the election, or in Virginia, with its generous forty-five-day lead, this tool will assist you to plan when you will cast your ballot. For each specific election, you will also see variations in types of early voting allowed by your state and the deadlines associated with those methods. This is useful for filing absentee ballot requests on time, for identifying if you can vote early “in-person absentee” at the election office, and more.

Remember, the early voting period varies by state and can also vary by election. Be sure to consult the U.S. Vote Foundation Election Dates and Deadlines tool and mark your calendar accordingly.

Locating Early Voting Sites Near You

Once you are aware of the timing of early voting, your next step will be to find the location of your early voting site(s). Typically, you are able to use any early voting location in your county, however, you will want to verify the exact locations with your election office. Look it up in the  U.S. Vote Foundation Election Official Directory.

Preparing for Early Voting

Now that you know where and when you’re going to vote, it’s time to prepare for your trip to the polls. You’ll want to:

  • Ensure that your voter registration is up to date
  • Gather the necessary identification
  • Become knowledgeable about the candidates and issues on the ballot
Verify Your Voter Registration Status

In almost all states, in order to vote you must have an active registration. Some states review the voter registration rolls regularly and remove individuals if they suspect a change in residence or a lack of voter activity. Because of this, you will want to check your registration status prior to every election. U.S. Vote Foundation has made this easy by offering an Am I Registered to Vote lookup tool. This will help you to confirm the status of your voter registration. If your registration is not current, you can easily Register to Vote.

Required Identification for Early Voting

Since the requirement for identification and the type of identification varies greatly between states and can change based on revisions to state legislation, its strongly recommended that you review the acceptable types of identification in your state before heading out to vote. You can do this by checking the Identification section in the U.S. Vote Foundation’s State Voter Information directory.

While photo IDs like a driver’s license or passport are the standard in most states, others may welcome non-photo IDs such as a voter registration card or birth certificate. First-time voters, especially those who registered by mail, must be prepared to present documentation that verifies their name and address.

Sample Ballots and Researching Candidates

The last step in your early voting preparation is to look up the candidates and issues found on your ballot before you vote. You can find this information on a sample ballot, which some states mail to voters prior to the election. U.S. Vote Foundation also provides an alternative way to view your sample ballot through its Sample Ballot Lookup Tool.

Absentee and Mail-In Voting Alternatives

For those who cannot vote early in-person, mail-in voting is available. Seven states, including California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia send out mail ballots for all elections, and Vermont for all general elections.

These states fully embrace the mail-in approach and provide vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters without having to request them. These states still maintain in-person early voting locations for voters who prefer the physical act of voting. In all other states, you must request a mail-in ballot, which you can do, using U.S. Vote Foundation’s Absentee Ballot Request Tool.

How to Request and Cast an Absentee Ballot

To request an absentee ballot, you can choose one of the following options:

Make sure to check the specific deadlines in your state and submit your application well in advance of Election Day.

Once you receive your ballot, be sure to pay close attention to the instructions on how to complete it and include any signatures or requested documentation. These instructions will also indicate the options for returning the completed ballot.

Tracking Your Absentee Ballot

Once your ballot has been completed and sent back, in most states you have the ability to follow the path of your ballot. Your state’s ballot tracker will show you where in the process your ballot is and when it’s been counted.

Emergency Absentee Voting Procedures

When emergencies arise just prior to Election Day, such as an unexpected illness or another urgent issue, emergency absentee voting becomes a vital safety net to casting your ballot. This process, while expedited, often involves communication with your local election office, a specialized application and a set of hard and fast deadlines.


Advantages of Voting Early

By alleviating long lines and offering greater convenience, early voting has the potential to increase turnout, especially among those who might find it challenging to vote on Election Day. Here are the benefits that early voting provides and ways communities can encourage others to utilize this option.

Voting early rather than on election day can make voting feel like a privilege instead of a chore. Some of the advantages of early voting include:

  • Flexibility: Voters have the autonomy to choose a time that suits their schedule within the early voting period.
  • Shorter wait times: Early voting often translates into shorter wait times at the polls.
  • More options: Early voting options often include in-person or by mail.
Encouraging Others to Vote Early

Encouraging others to vote early can be as simple as:

  • Creating an Early Voting Journey Map - and sharing it with your contacts
  • Sharing your own story of voting convenience, thus inspiring friends and family to consider this option
  • Using messaging that is engaging, nonpartisan, and infused with a call to action driving home the point
  • Utilizing small tokens like “I Voted” stickers can serve as badges of honor, sparking conversations and promoting civic pride

On a larger scale, organizing events, partnering with trusted organizations, and leveraging the voices of community leaders can amplify the message, making early voting not just a choice, but a community effort.

How to Make Your Early Voting Plan

To make your customized step-by-step map to prepare for early voting, U.S. Vote Foundation recommends that you create your Voter Journey Map. This unique interactive tool is available on the US.VOTE civic engagement website – also brought to you by U.S. Vote Foundation!

Create Your Early Voting - Voter Journey Map

Voter Journey Map graphic with hands reaching up to How to Vote in America