Early voting upends traditional sprint to Election Day
Chance Seales, Media General National Correspondent – WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) -- The run-up to Election Day is typically a blur of campaign rallies and last minute photo ops, but early voting laws across the country have rewritten the rules for capturing the White House in 2016.
In effect, everything moved up a month.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spend their October days sprinting across the nation urging voters to get out and vote – not in November, right now.
There's a possibility that early votes could account for "more than 40 percent in swing states, according to the Clinton campaign," reports the New York Times, predicting "that the winner could be known before November."
Individual state laws govern early voting rules, but largely fall into five main categories.
These regulations could very well lead to an inevitable winner before a single Election Day ballot is cast.
Some states get the party started ultra early. They're the friends who show up to your 8 p.m. dinner party at 7:55.
A few of them are incredibly important to the 2016 outcome, like Ohio and Virginia.
California, delegate-rich and steadily Democratic, also allows residents to start voting at least a month ahead of time.
Next week, a good number of states begin an early voting period that lasts approximately three weeks.
Arizona and North Carolina, two states on the bubble, fall into this category, although the Tarheel State's rules were not expanded as widely as Democrats had hoped.
This is the biggie: Florida.
Trump needs the perennial southern swing state in almost any scenario to get the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House. Current polls put Clinton and Trump neck and neck in Florida.
Colorado ballot boxes will also be open for business. Clinton sees the state as part of her firewall and leads Trump by seven points, according to Real Clear Politics.
A host of states allow early voting on a county-by-county basis.
One area might start two weeks ahead of time while the other has seven days.
If you live here, you're at the mercy of local election officials.
No early voting
The remaining balance of states do not allow early voting.
Battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Hampshire are part of this group.
There are a number of reasons that state legislatures limit early voting, including the fact that more flexibility allows a greater number of minority and low-income voters, who lean Democratic, to cast their ballots on non-Election Days.
Early voting opponents also cite concerns that voters will make premature choices without all the relevant information.
No return policy
With Clinton's campaign reporting a 77-percent spike in absentee ballot requests by Hispanic voters in Florida over this point in 2012, the die could already be cast in swing states with large minority populations and loads of electoral votes.
If Trump gets too far behind in the Sunshine State, all of his efforts in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina could be rendered meaningless.
On the flip side, the GOP nominee could benefit from early voters casting irrevocable ballots for him before more controversies erupt.
12 states, including Ohio and Virginia, were holding early voting periods as audio tape of Trump bragging about sexual assaults changed the race.
Those tapes from a 2005 "Access Hollywood" appearance changed many voters' minds about Trump, according to polls, but Americans who'd already selected Trump at the early ballot box can't get a do-over.
The same could be said to a lesser degree of the Wikileaks release of 10 years' worth of hacked emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which included information that raised eyebrows.
Ready or not, the polls are open – or opening soon.
To find out more about your local election laws, visit Vote.org
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales
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