“A generation ago, Americans voted almost exclusively on Election Day at local, neighborhood polling places. Early during the twentieth century, states adopted laws and procedures that allowed citizens to cast an absentee ballot by mail but restricted such ballots’ use to specific reasons, such as absence from the jurisdiction on Election Day, sickness or infirmity, or military service overseas. States also required procedures aimed at protecting the integrity of the absentee ballot, such as the signatures of witnesses or of a notary public. These tight restrictions on absentee vote-by-mail ballots kept the percentage of voters that cast such ballots small at about five percent.
“The revolution in casting ballots prior to Election Day started in the late 1970s when several western states, starting with California, introduced no-excuse absentee balloting. This new way of looking at absentee voting—more as a convenience option than an option of last resort—opened the way for increased voting by mail. Not long after California expanded absentee voting did we see the first trials of in-person early voting. This form of voting started in the late 1980s when Texas, and a few years later Tennessee, opened up polling locations for several weeks prior to Election Day where voters could cast ballots with the security of the polling place.
“These early seeds planted three decades ago have today yielded tremendous growth in the number of people who cast ballots prior to Election Day. Nearly a third of voters in 2012 cast their ballots prior to Election Day; over 17 percent of voters cast absentee ballots by mail and over 14 percent of voters cast their ballots at an early in-person polling location.”