What You Need To Know: Your 2022 Early Voting Guide  - NDTC

It can be tough to make your voice heard on a day as chaotic as Election Day. Voters in many states are extremely limited to the times and places they can show up to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. Forcing voters to show up in person to vote has long been a form of disenfranchisement towards marginalized communities, excluding their voices when they matter most. The purpose of this early voting guide is to ensure your vote is counted in both the primaries and on election night. 

Most states have some form of no-excuse early voting opportunities. Taking advantage of these opportunities is the best way to ensure your vote is counted. To boot, early voting shortens lines on Election Day and makes it easier for every vote to be received before polls close. In this early voting guide, we’ll break down each method of early voting to help you understand what it all means. We’ll also help you navigate the early voting options that may be available in your state. 

Remember: Early voting impacts more than just Election Day!

Your local primary elections can be just as important, and early voting laws apply to those elections as well. 

What Is Early Voting?

Early voting is an umbrella phrase used for any form of voting that isn’t in person on election day. There are two main types:

  • Early Voting: in person.
  • Absentee Voting: by mail.

It’s important to remember that you need to be a registered voter to vote early or vote on Election Day. If you aren’t a registered voter yet, don’t worry, you can register here in just a few clicks. Now, let’s dive into the first category of early voting. 

Early Voting Guide: In Person

Many states’ polling places open early to give voters more opportunities to vote in person and to allow voters more time to vote. 

Every state has different rules about voting early, for example: 

  • Louisiana opens polling places 14 days before an election, and polling places close for in-person early voting seven days before Election Day. 
  • California opens polling places 29 days before their election, and continues through Election Day.
  • Alabama does not offer any opportunities for early, in-person voting. 

Make sure you know the early voting rules for your state. You can find a comprehensive, up-to-date list of each state’s rules for early voting here. 

Early voting polling locations and hours may be different from Election Day locations and hours, so it’s important to always verify this information if you plan to vote early in person. 

Early Voting Guide: Absentee Voting By Mail

What does it mean to: 

  • Vote absentee? 
  • Vote by mail?
  • Mail-in vote?
  • Vote by mail-in ballot? 
  • Vote by mail ballot?

It’s probably hard to tell what the difference is; that’s because they are all the same thing. The act of mailing an absentee ballot (mail-in ballot, vote-by-mail ballot, mail-voting ballot, mail-vote) is simply sending your ballot through the mail to be counted in an election. 

What’s an Absentee Ballot?

The National Conference of State Legislature helps us understand what these terms mean:

All states allow some form of voting by mail. In one-third of US states, voting by mail is only available under certain conditions such as military service or age. In the other two-thirds of states, voting by mail is available to all eligible voters.  Moreover, states often have different rules about voting by mail, so it’s important to be up-to-date on your state’s specific rules and guidelines. 

What are Common Rules to Look for?

To make sure that your ballot is received and counted in the next election, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is every registered voter eligible to vote by mail, or are there restrictions? 
  • How do I obtain an application for absentee voting in my state?
  • Do I need to request a ballot, or will one be sent to me?
  • If I have to request a ballot, do I need to do that for every election, or just one time?
  • What are the Voter ID laws in my state?
  • What is the deadline for me to return my application?
  • How can I submit my absentee ballot? 
  • What is the deadline for me to mail my ballot?
  • Do I need postage? Or is the ballot prepaid?
  • What is the deadline for postmarking my ballot? 

How Can I Vote by Mail?

If you do not live in a state with all-mail elections you will need to: 

  • Apply for an absentee ballot to vote by mail 
  • Receive your ballot in the mail at your current address
  • Fill out your ballot 
  • Mail your ballot by your state’s deadline

Apply For An Absentee Ballot

A ballot will automatically be sent to your address if you are a registered voter in a state with all-mail elections (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington).

If you do not live in a state with all-mail elections, and your state’s rules allow you to vote by mail, you will need to apply for an absentee ballot. You can find your state’s rules on absentee voting and apply for an absentee ballot here. 

You can also reach out to your state government and ask them to send an absentee voter application to your current address (in or out of state). When your application arrives, fill it out, add postage (if necessary), and mail it back in the pre-addressed envelope included with your application. 

Receive Your Absentee Ballot In The Mail

Once your application is received online or by mail, an official ballot is sent to your address for you to fill out and mail to your local board of elections by a specific deadline. Your ballot may or may not require postage. 

Can I Cast An Absentee Ballot In Person? 

Absentee voting in person means that you will cast your absentee ballot by hand-delivering your ballot to your polling place (instead of mailing your ballot) when it is open during early voting or on Election Day. Be careful, this is not a universal thing in all 50 states.  To clarify, check in with your local Board of Elections to see if this applies to you. 

What’s Next? 

Share this early voting guide with friends to encourage them to vote. For example, you can send a text or a DM saying something like “Hey! Use this early voting guide to figure out how you can vote in this election!” 

If you’re working for or volunteering on a campaign, check out our new mini-lesson: Get Out The Vote: How to Talk to Voters. We’ll give you some tips for voter contact through phone banking and texting. Finally, it can be common for yourself, a friend, or a family member to be uncertain about their voter registration status. Doube-check your voter registration by clicking our button below! 

Check Registration

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Dana Bottenfield

Dana Bottenfield joined NDTC as an instructional designer in 2019. Dana works with experts in political campaigns and strategy to create curriculum for NDTC’s Online Academy, virtual live trainings, and cohort-based learning programs. Dana holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from The University of Kansas and a MA in Victorian Literature from The University of Exeter, UK. She spent 15 years in publishing before moving to a career in content development and instructional design for industry leaders. Dana’s favorite hobbies include cooking overly complicated meals and exploring trails and parks with her dog, Midge.