How many American states allow early voting

United States

Philipp Adorf

Philipp Adorf is a research fellow at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn. His research focuses on the Republican Party, the issue of American race relations, and right-wing populist successes within the working class.

Voting is a matter of country in the USA - and in many states it is anything but easy. What is a basic right for some is a privilege for others. The interpretation of the right to vote divides the political camps to this day.

Action to promote Early voting in New York 2019: In view of the corona pandemic, postal votes for the 2020 US presidential election have been made easier in more than 20 states. (& copy picture-alliance / AP, Seth Wenig)

While the federal suffrage reforms of the 1960s were intended to ensure that all US citizens could vote, the tide has turned in the last 15 years: More and more states have implemented numerous restrictions. Publicly presented as steps to preserve the legitimacy of elections and prevent electoral fraud, these restrictions often aim to make it more difficult for specific sections of the population to vote.

The patchwork quilt of US suffrage

According to Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution, the individual states can determine how they hold elections and how they occupy Congress. The federal legislature can set requirements, but in reality the individual states have a large amount of room for maneuver.

A key document of the last few decades on the protection of minority voting rights can be found in the Voting Rights Act (VRA) from 1965. One of the central pillars was the following requirement: Specific states and counties, in which minorities were for the most part barred from voting until the 1960s, had to contact the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. obtain prior consent (Preclearance). This requirement came to an end in the summer of 2013 due to the decision of the Supreme Court (Supreme Court) in the case Shelby County v. Holder: The Chairman argued that the method of establishing "preclearance" states was based on outdated data on discrimination against minorities. The enormous increase in the number of registered black voters in the corresponding regions was brought in as evidence of the decline in this regard; Parts of the VRA that enabled federal intervention with regard to local changes to the electoral law were consequently declared unconstitutional. [1]

Critical voices pointed out that the protection provided by the Justice Department is more relevant today, especially in the American South, than it was in the late 20th century. [2] Until the end of the 1990s, the democrats ruled the southern states, thanks in particular to the support of black voters at the state level. The steady rise of the Republicans in the region, on the other hand, led to a change in the majority structure there at the turn of the millennium. From then on, black voters found themselves in a disadvantageous situation, because the party at the levers of power had a fundamental interest in making it difficult for Afro-American participation in elections.

The critics of the Supreme Court-Judgment should be proved right. Within the first 24 hours after the announcement, in five of the nine states that previously had to obtain the consent of the Federal Ministry of Justice, more restrictive requirements regarding their right to vote were implemented. [3] In the following years, in the individual states that were now exempt from federal supervision, a higher percentage of voters were struck from the state electoral registers than in the rest of the country. [4]

Implementation of restrictions in the last two decades

The weeks of uncertainty about the outcome of the presidential election in 2000 highlighted the need for fundamental reorganization of the electoral process. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), whose authors were guided by the intention of making it easier to participate in elections and at the same time making electoral fraud more difficult. [5] Thanks to HAVA, individual states can still receive federal funding for modernizing their electoral infrastructure. At the same time, the act stipulated the creation of electoral registers at the state level. HAVA also decrees that first-time voters who have registered to participate in elections by post must show ID at the polling station when they first vote. [6] Various individual states have since implemented a restrictive approach to expulsion on election day. In 2005, Indiana and Georgia were the first states to introduce a "strict" requirement to present photo ID - without this, participation in elections should be denied. In mid-2020, a total of six individual states could be found in which such a requirement exists. The majority of states do require expulsion, but potential voters can avoid showing photo ID or documents, for example by issuing an affidavit confirming their identity. [7]

Another way to keep people out of the ballot box is to remove their name from the electoral roll. These are "cleaned up" and thus updated at regular intervals. However, some federal states are particularly aggressive in deleting potential data subjects. [8] For example the classic Swing State[9] Ohio. If voters there do not take part in two consecutive elections within two years, they will receive a letter asking them to confirm their current address. If there is no answer and the person concerned still does not participate in elections for the following four years, the entry in the electoral register expires. Accordingly, groups whose voter turnout is traditionally lower are disproportionately affected: ethnic minorities or people from precarious social backgrounds. [10]

The interpretation of the right to vote as a basic right or, on the other hand, a privilege, for the exercise of which certain hurdles should be accepted, divides American politics on the basis of party political affiliation. For example, between 2005 and 2015, all laws to introduce strict presentation of photo ID were implemented in states with Republican majorities. [11] In general, the two major political camps see the exercise of the right to vote from fundamentally different perspectives: while the majority of democratic voters are in favor of facilitating participation in elections, supporters of the Republicans are in favor of a much more restrictive approach. For example, nearly 80 percent of all Democrats support an automatic election registration system, whose interactions with certain government agencies automatically result in the name being added to the state electoral register. [12]

The consequences of the restrictions on the right to vote

A closer look reveals that the requirement of the "strict" identification requirement poses a further hurdle for ethnic minorities in particular when using the right to vote. While eight percent of all white Americans do not have a government-issued photo ID, the proportion among African-Americans is 25 percent. [13] Overall, in a representative survey from 2018, both black Americans and Hispanic Americans said more often than their white counterparts that their choice was difficult for various reasons.

The possibility of voting days or weeks before the election (the so-called Early voting), are also more likely to make use of minorities: In Ohio in 2012, the proportion of early voters among the black electorate was twice as high as among the white electorate. [14]Early voting is relevant precisely because the elections take place on weekdays and thus the work activity can collide with the voting.

Here, too, Republican chambers have often implemented a reduction in recent years. In Florida, the early voting time window was reduced from 14 to 8 days in 2011, a measure that reduced voter turnout, especially among minorities. [15] In North Carolina, the Republican majority there decided in 2018 to reduce the number of polling stations for early voting by 20 percent. [16]

The expansion of postal voting in the midst of the corona pandemic

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, 34 states and Washington, D.C. Postal voting documents can be requested without giving reasons. [1] In mid-August 2020, on the other hand, seven individual states could still be found in which postal voting documents could only be requested with a valid reason (for example, a stay outside the place of residence on election day) and where health concerns about the pandemic were seen as inadequate cause. At that time, this affected approximately 52 million voters who, if they did vote, had potentially no other option than to appear in person at a polling station. [2]

A total of 20 states and Washington, D.C. In response to the pandemic, make it easier to vote in elections by post. For example, California, the most populous state in the USA, decided to organize the upcoming elections (almost) entirely through postal voting. [3] One of the fundamental challenges of these reforms in terms of safeguarding democratic legitimacy is the comparatively high proportion of rejected postal votes (for example, due to the lack of a signature or a postmark confirming that they were sent on time). [4]

In the event of a close election result, several weeks could pass before there is clarity about the winner of the presidential election. In the state of New York, for example, it took six weeks in the local area codes in the summer before official final results were available. [5] In addition, in all probability, considerably more Democratic than Republican voters will vote by letter. This could potentially lead to shifts in the majority situation weeks after election day. [6]

  1. National Conference of State Legislatures (2020): States with No-Excuse Absentee Voting.
  2. Status: August 15, 2020. RABINOWITZ, Kate / MAYES, Brittany Renee (2020): At least 77% of American voters can cast ballots by mail in the fall. In: Washington Post, July 27.
  3. WHITE, Jeremy B. (2020): California becomes first state to switch November election to all-mail balloting. In: Politico, May 8th.
  4. SHINO, Enrijeta et al. (2020): Here’s the problem with mail-in ballots: They might not be counted. In: Washington Post, May 21.
  5. SIEGEL, Benjamin (2020): Why President Trump keeps talking about a New York Democratic primary. In: ABC News, August 11,
  6. HASEN, Rick (2020): In Pennsylvania's Recent Primary, More Democrats Voted by Mail and More Republicans in Person: Big National Implications for November. Election Law Blog, June 18.



Another fundamental restriction can be found in the withdrawal of the right to vote for serious criminals ("Felons"). Only Maine and Vermont allow detention Felons continue to exercise their right to vote. Only 16 states give them back their right to vote immediately after the end of their detention, while twelve states permanently withdraw the right to vote from some former detainees on the basis of the gravity of the crime. In 2016, more than six million Americans were denied the right to vote because of criminal acts. Here, too, black citizens are particularly affected: According to data from 2016, over seven percent of Afro-Americans who were potentially eligible to vote had lost their right to vote in this way. Among all other US citizens, however, this value was 1.8 percent. [17]

Election fraud - a largely irrelevant problem

In a country where there is no compulsory registration, there is the potential for multiple participation in elections, for example if citizens in different individual states are on the respective electoral registers. [18] However, "strict" identification requirements to prevent voting with a false identity address a non-existent problem: With one billion votes cast in all US elections between 2000 and 2014, only 31 such cases could be found. [19] Despite this evidence, the issue of the use of the right to vote will remain one of the major points of contention between Democrats and Republicans - with the fundamental implications for the state of American democracy.