Election Day might officially be on Nov. 6, but in fact the election is really happening right now — thanks to modern-day open absentee and early voting.
Voting has already begun in multiple states, including some key swing states: North Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia. On Thursday, open absentee voting will begin in the swing state of Iowa, as well as North Dakota where a crucial Senate race is going on, plus President Obama’s home state of Illinois and the GOP bastion of Wyoming.
Next Tuesday, voting begins in the two biggest prizes among swing states, Florida and Ohio.
Early voting takes two major forms. The first is liberalized absentee voting laws, which allow voters to request a ballot by mail without having to offer any excuse for why they can’t vote in person on Election Day. The second is in-person early voting — often a window of time within the absentee period — that transforms Election Day from a one-shot deal to a rolling period to vote that lasts days or weeks.
According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total of 26 states, plus the District of Columbia, allow for a combination of both no-excuse absentee voting and early in-person voting. In six other states, absentee voting by mail still requires an excuse, but early in-person voting is allowed. In New Jersey there is open absentee voting, but there is no specific provision for voting early in person. And finally in two states, Oregon and Washington state, all voting is done by mail, and at remaining drop-off centers on Election Day.
Here’s a look at how that calendar will play out between now and Nov. 6:
Chart by TPM’s Christopher O’Driscoll.