Election Day may still be weeks away, but voting for this year’s midterm elections has already begun.
North Carolina officially kicked off this voting season on September 9, when, nearly two months before Election Day, its county boards of elections began mailing out absentee ballots.
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked interest in both forms of voting during the 2020 election, when, according to a report by the US Election Assistance Commission.only 30.5% of voters cast ballots in person on Election Day, down from 58.2% in 2018 and 54.5% in 2016.
Election officials expect these trends to continue in many communities, leaving elections to be less about what happens on a Tuesday in November and more about what happens during the weeks before.
For many voters, it means Election Day has become something of a last call.
“If you haven’t dealt with that yet, don’t wait any longer,” says Paul Linnell, deputy director of elections for the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, of the role of Election Day in a state with a 46-day period. early voting.
The longest voting season of any state is in North Carolina, where the state board of elections reported earlier this monthabout 53,000 voters had requested an absentee ballot for the general election.
Given early voting patterns in North Carolina’s Durham County, any explosive news about a candidate landing as an “October surprise” won’t necessarily sway local results, says Derek Bowens, county elections director.
“I guess it could have an effect. But generally, in our biggest, even-year elections, before Election Day, most of our voters have voted,” Bowens adds, noting that an “August surprise “It could be a different situation. history.
In Buncombe County, North Carolina, more voting leading up to Election Day also means more foot traffic, phone calls and computer calls at the elections office, which hits “almost its busiest” in September, according to Corinne Duncan. , local director of elections.
“When voters vote early, that means we have more votes that we can pre-process and audit before Election Day,” Duncan adds, referencing the state law that allows election officials to start preparing absentee ballots. to count them before election day. “That scrutiny period is extremely busy for us, and we use everything to make sure everything gets audited. So if we can push some of that forward, that really helps.”
Still, in some North Carolina counties, Election Day is still the day to cast ballots for many voters, says Devon Houck, director of the Ashe County Board of Elections, who tracked voting patterns during this year’s primary election.
“We didn’t have an inordinate number of mail-in no-shows. And we’re an older county, but we’re also a very Republican county. And I think that makes a difference, too,” Houck says.
Since 2020, there has been a growing difference in preference for voting by mail that is along party lines. With many Republican officials focused on mail-in voting laws, Democrats are more likely to say they prefer to cast their ballots by mail than Republicans.
However voters choose to vote, Houck says that for election officials, at least one thing is certain.
“Something my friends used to tell me: ‘Oh, well, you only work one day a year.’ And I say, ‘No,'” Houck says with a smile. “It takes a lot more than what the public really knows to prepare for an election.”