Everything You Need to Know About Early Voting—in 1 Map

Experts expect as many as 40 percent of voters will cast ballots early. Here's your state-by-state guide to the rules.

Have you voted today? No, of course it's not even November yet. But if you're an Ohioan you might already have cast your ballot. Some Buckeye State voters are especially eager to do so; Connie Schultz, the syndicated columnist and wife of Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, snapped a picture of people in Obama gear camped out in front of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Monday night so they could vote first thing Tuesday morning when the state started its early voting Tuesday.

Ohio isn't the only such state. Voting in North Carolina started nearly a month ago. And all told, it's estimated that as much as 40 percent of the electorate could cast ballots before November 6. Here's a quick rundown on what the rules are in different states from the National Conference of State Legislatures. You can click on individual states for more info:

earlyvotingkey.jpg

There's even more information at the NCSL site, and National Journal's Kenneth Chamberlain spotlights a more detailed (though less aesthetically pleasing) map here.

Early voting, like voter-ID laws, is a fractious topic. Proponents argue that it's important to make it easier for people who have to work on Election Day or have less mobility to vote. Opponents point to a study suggesting the practice doesn't increase turnout. Both sides have valid points, but it's noteworthy that the proponents tend to be liberals and opponents tend to conservative. Probably not coincidentally, Democrats seem to benefit most from early voting. For example, Obama actually lost the Election Day vote in Iowa to John McCain in 2008, but ended up the winner because of ballots cast early.

It's when you look at a map like this that you realize how important the tracking polls are today. There's still time for some surprise to throw open the race, but many voters may have already cast their ballots. Take, for example, my colleague Molly Ball's report from Appalachian Ohio, where voters remain very skeptical of Mitt Romney, even though they don't love Barack Obama. If those voters cast their ballots today, it's over -- there is no time for Romney to get them to come around. On the other hand, there are fewer undecided voters than ever in 2012.

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David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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