More than one in three people are expected to cast a ballot early this year, but unless you have an excuse to cast an absentee ballot in Pennsylvania, you cannot vote early in the state.
More than 37 states have some form of early voting, including in-person, on weekends or mail-in ballots. There are even states that operate without physical polling locations and rely solely on mail-in ballots, such as Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
Find out where to vote, how to vote, and more in our 2018 guide to midterm elections.
Early voting has risen in popularity across the nation over the past two decades, but states still tend to administer elections in step with their regional peers.
“If you were to go to the West Coast, [they] have much more progressive voting laws. It’s almost a regional effect going on,” professor and director of the NBC NewsElections Unit John Lapinski said. “Often you see neighboring states making similar decisions. If you look at Pennsylvania, the state looks a lot like some of its neighbors. There is not a lot of early voting in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut or Virginia. For the most part, the northeast is not a place where there [is] early voting going on.”
In Pennsylvania, it is not particularly easy to obtain absentee ballots, Lapinski said.
He added, “For changes to happen in policy, there is usually some form of grassroots movement to push for it. If Pennsylvania is going to implement early voting, groups are going to have to get behind it in a pretty significant way.”
Both Democrats and Republicans are supportive of early voting, but tend to favor different forms. Registered Republicans vote by mail in larger numbers than Democrats, and Democrats use early in-person voting more often.
Lapinski said one of the main benefits of early voting is that it makes voting easier to hopefully get more people to participate.
And contrary to points made by Republican nominee Donald Trump, Lapinski said there is no evidence that early voting contributes to voter fraud. Besides a few instances on the margin, there is no evidence of large scale voter fraud in the United States.
Critics of early voting have said that voters can cast their vote as early as two months before the election, and in that time, voters can learn a lot about the campaigns or there could be an unexpected national or international news event, known as an “October surprise.” And once you cast your vote, you cannot take it back.
Nevertheless, a bipartisan election commission convened by President Barack Obama concluded in January 2014 that states across the country should increase their use of early voting.
Obama created the commission after a number of Americans waited hours in line to vote in the 2012 presidential election.
The Brennan Center for Justice found that in the three states with the longest lines in 2012, precincts in minority neighborhoods were systematically deprived of the resources they needed to make voting operate smoothly, including things such as voting machines and poll workers.
According to CNN, many problems were also reported around Philadelphia in 2012. The nonpartisan election monitors from the independent Committee of Seventy said that two voting machines broke at one precinct on the city’s north side, forcing poll workers to issue provisional ballots. That slowed down an already long line, and at least 30 voters left.
The numberof early votes cast in the 2012 election was more than double those cast in 2000. Based on his calculations, Lapinski said that the patterns suggest that even more people will choose to vote early in the 2016 presidential election — just not in Pennsylvania.
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