Early voting (also called pre-poll voting or advance polling) is a process by which voters in a public election can vote prior to the scheduled election day. Early voting can take place remotely, such as via postal voting, or in person, usually in designated early voting polling stations. The availability and time periods for early voting vary among jurisdictions and types of election. The goals of early voting are usually to increase voter participation and relieve congestion at polling stations on election day.
The categories of people who vote early include those who will be out of the polling area during the election period, poll workers, campaign workers, people with medical procedures scheduled for that time, and adherents to religious commitments, among others.
The numbers of voters who vote early has increased in recent years. As unconditional (no excuse) early voting has gained ground, some critics have condemned the process as damaging to the democratic process.
In Australia, early voting is known as pre-poll voting. However, to cast an early vote a voter must already be registered.
In Canada, early voting is known as advance polling. It is offered to all voters in all federal, provincial, and most municipal elections. In federal elections, voters do not need to be registered in order to vote at an advance poll, provided they are either carrying proof of identity and address, or bring a registered voter who will swear an oath of identification at the polling station on their behalf.
Finland and Sweden have similar early voting systems.
Based on the addresses of the obligatory resident registration for all citizens, all eligible voters in Germany receive automatically a wahlbenachrichtigung (notification of election which contains a postal vote application form) because. The notification is sent at least three weeks before an election to the Bundestag. It is possible to cast one's vote directly at the municipal government office that handles the application. Only voters with residence abroad must register by own acting.
The requirement for an excuse has been removed in 2008, but it was just an abstract assurance before that never has been validated. 19% of all voters voted early in 2005.
Rules for the elections in the states, counties, and municipalities of Germany are very similar. Germans living abroad may register and vote via mail for Bundestag elections and European Parliament elections, but not for state and local elections.
In the Republic of Ireland, it is traditional for voters on the remote coastal islands to vote on the day prior to the official date of the election. This is to avoid the possibility that bad weather might impede the delivery of ballot boxes to the count center on the mainland. However, the practice is not universally popular.
Malta introduced early voting in 2009 for general and European Parliament elections; the system was first used in the 2009 election of Members of the European Parliament. Elections in Malta are held over one Saturday. Electors who would be outside the country on the day and are ready to take an oath to that effect may vote one week beforehand, at the premises of the Electoral Commission.
Early voting, or advance voting, has been possible in New Zealand without a reason since 2008. Advance voting opens on the Wednesday 17 days before the election day, with around 300 polling booths set up across the country. Voters attending an appropriate advance polling booth for their electorate (constituency) can cast an ordinary vote in the same way they would if voting on election day. If the voter is outside the electorate, enrolled after the cutoff date (31 days before election day), or is on the unpublished roll, they must cast a special vote.
In the 2011 election, 334,600 advance votes were cast, representing 14.7% of all votes cast.
In Norway early voting is known as "forhåndsstemming". At the general election of 2009, 707,489 Norwegians voted in advance, 200 000 more than the previous record, in 2001.
Sweden has traditionally had a high participation in elections and tries to make it as easy as possible to vote. No registration is needed, since everyone is generally registered with a home address. Normally, a voter should vote on the election day in the specified polling station, but everyone can vote during the last week at an early polling station, anywhere in the country, usually municipality-owned places like libraries.
Also, on election day, some polling places are open, even though the election day is always on Sunday. In hospitals and homes for the elderly, there are special voting opportunities. In elections until 1998, post offices were used for several decades as early voting stations (post offices now belong to a commercial company and are no longer nationally administered). Swedes living abroad must register their address and can vote at embassies or through mail.
The early votes are transported to the voter's polling station in double envelopes. On election day, a voter can vote at the polling station. Before the early vote is counted, officials check if the voter has voted at the polling station. If that is the case, the vote is destroyed, with the inner envelope unopened. Early votes that do not reach the polling station in time are transported to the County Administrative Board and counted if the voter has not already voted.
Swiss federal law allows postal voting in all federal elections and referenda, and all cantons allow it for cantonal ballot issues. All voters receive their personal ballot by mail a few weeks before the election or referendum. They may cast it at a polling station on election day or mail it back at any prior time.
In Thailand, early voting is known as เลือกตั้งล่วงหน้า (advance voting). It has been available since the 1997 Constitution of Thailand and is offered both inside and outside the constituency, especially for migrant workers and students, to all voters at central polling places, mostly at the registered district offices, for House of Representatives of Thailand elections and referendums.
Eligible voters are required to register at district offices and receive a reply notification. For advance voting outside the constituency, voters must register not less than 30 days before election day unless the voter has registered for the latest election. Voters who would like to go back and vote at their original constituency (according to house registration) must apply for register cancellation.
Thais living abroad may also register at embassies or consulates and vote through mail or at the embassies or consulates prior to election day.
Early voting day is the same as election day: voters must be carrying proof of identity, but it may be expired. The Election Commission uses post offices to send constituency ballots from other constituencies and abroad to original constituencies. They will be counted with election day constituency ballots.
Early voting in the Thai general election, 2011 was arranged on a Sunday (26 June 2011) while prior elections were arranged on both Saturday and Sunday. Around 2.6 million people, including 1.07 million in Bangkok turned up to vote, however, many potential voters were unable to vote because of large crowds. Voters who did not vote on early voting day still can vote at their original constituencies on election day.
Early voting is similar to "no-excuse" absentee voting. In many U.S. states the period varies between four and fifty days prior to Election Day. Early voting in person is allowed without any excuse required in 33 U.S. states and in the District of Columbia (DC). Absentee voting by mail without any excuse is allowed in 27 states and DC. In 20 states, an excuse is required. No-excuse permanent absentee voting is allowed in 6 states and in DC, and 3 states (Oregon, Washington and Colorado) conduct all early voting by mail.
The District of Columbia required an excuse for early voting and absentee voting until its primary election on September 14, 2010. Early voting for the DC primary began on August 30, 2010.
Florida officially began early voting in 2004 as reflected in statute 101.657 f.s.
Turnout for early voting exceeded a million in 2004. There were some problems: first day computer failures in Orange County and Broward County; accidentally erased votes in Volusia County; and a lack of early voting sites in Jacksonville. Reforms are being discussed to address the known issues as well as possibly eliminating the standard poll in favor of modified early voting.
In 2016 early voting requests increased 77% in Florida among Hispanic-Americans compared to 2012.
In Georgia, "early voting" and "advance voting" have two different meanings. Voting a week early is called "advance" voting and is typically available at several locations in urban and suburban counties. Voting well in advance, up to 45 days before election day, is called "early" voting and is normally available only at the 159 county election offices (where "advance" voting is also available). There is no voting the day before election day.
In August 2006, a judge ruled in favor of several plaintiffs that the state constitution permitted voting only on the day of the election. The plaintiffs were challenging a new early-voting law on the probability of fraud. Absentee ballots appear to remain acceptable for the time being.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2008 to allow early voting, starting with the primary elections in 2010. Maryland now offers both early voting in person and absentee voting by mail.
The National Conference of State Legislatures provides up-to-date tables of summary and detailed outlines of each state's laws, as well as links to the relevant Codes and Statutes.