A MARTINEZ, HOST:
We're still a little over six weeks away from Election Day, but voting for the midterms has already started. As NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports, we are now officially in voting season.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: In November, on a Tuesday, you're probably used to hearing this.
(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Here we are. We made it.
KORVA COLEMAN, BYLINE: It's finally here.
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: It is Election Day.
COLEMAN: It's Election Day.
MARTIN: It is Election Day.
WANG: With the rise of early voting and voting by mail, elections are increasingly less about what happens on that one day and more about what happens over the weeks before, like in Minnesota, where voters can get an absentee ballot to vote from home or at a local election office starting today and for the next 45 days.
I guess for folks who say, like, I was too busy on Election Day or I forgot about it, they have less of an excuse in Minnesota.
PAUL LINNELL: I think that's exactly right.
WANG: That's Paul Linnell.
LINNELL: And I'm the deputy elections director for the office of the Minnesota Secretary of State.
WANG: Which has been tracking why, for many Minnesotans, voting for this year's midterm elections will not take place on November 8.
LINNELL: They've got work on Election Day, other commitments, heading out of town, hunting season, a number of reasons why folks would want to vote ahead of time prior to Election Day.
WANG: And those kinds of folks aren't just in Minnesota now that a majority of states allow all eligible voters to vote by mail and most states have at least two weeks of early voting. So Linnell says another way voters can think about Election Day is...
LINNELL: It's your last call. So if you haven't taken care of it yet, don't wait any longer.
WANG: The longest voting season of any state is in North Carolina. County boards of elections there started mailing out absentee ballots on September 9, almost two months before November's Election Day. And that means any bombshell news about a candidate that lands as an October surprise won't necessarily influence the results in North Carolina's Durham County...
DEREK BOWENS: Yeah, I guess it could have an effect.
WANG: ...Where Derek Bowens is the election's director.
BOWENS: But generally in our larger, even-numbered-year elections, before Election Day, the bulk of our voters have voted.
WANG: So it needs to be, like, an August surprise.
BOWENS: Yeah, pretty much, exactly.
WANG: More pre-Election Day voting also means more foot traffic, phone calls and computer dings at the elections office in North Carolina's Buncombe County.
CORINNE DUNCAN: Our office is at almost peak busyness now, actually.
WANG: Corinne Duncan is the local director of elections here, where state law allows election officials to start preparing absentee ballots for counting before Election Day.
DUNCAN: When voters vote early, that means that we have more votes that we can pre-process and audit before Election Day. That canvass period is extremely busy for us, and we use all of it to make sure that everything is audited. And so if we can push some of that forward, that really helps.
WANG: In some counties, though, Election Day is still the day to cast ballots for many voters, says Devon Houck, the director of North Carolina's Ashe County Board of Elections, who followed voting patterns during this year's primaries.
DEVON HOUCK: We did not have an excessive amount of absentee by mail. And we are an older county, but we are also a highly Republican county. And so I believe that makes a difference as well.
WANG: Since 2020, there has been a growing difference in preference for voting by mail that falls along partisan lines, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to say they prefer to cast mail-in ballots. However voters choose to vote, though, Houck says one thing's for sure for election officials.
HOUCK: Something my friends will say to me - oh, well, you only work one day a year. And I'm like, no. (Laughter). It takes a lot more than the public actually knows to get ready for an election.
WANG: An election that, for many communities across the U.S., is increasingly a season's worth of work.
Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.
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