Written By: Thom File, sociologist, Education and Social Stratification Statistics Branch
Nationally in 2014, 10.3 percent of voters reported voting in person before Election Day, while 20.9 percent reported voting by mail, meaning that in the most recent congressional election, nearly a third of all voters reported some form of alternative voting (31.2 percent).
Most states have policies in place to allow eligible voters to cast ballots before Election Day, either during an early voting period, by voting with an absentee ballot, or both. In fact, there are only 14 states where early voting is not offered and an excuse is required to vote with an absentee ballot, while in three states (Colorado, Oregon and Washington), all ballots are cast through the mail. The level of alternative voting in 2014 represents about a threefold increase since 1996, the first year the Census Bureau asked about alternative voting, when only 10.5 percent of voters reported voting by alternative methods.
In most years of this analysis, non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics have reported relatively comparable rates of alternative voting. Between 1998 and 2010, the rates of alternative voting for non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics were not statistically different. In 1996, the rates for non-Hispanic whites were slightly higher than for Hispanics, whereas in the two most recent congressional elections, the rates for Hispanics have been higher than for non-Hispanic whites. Alternative voting rates for non-Hispanic blacks, meanwhile, have tended to lag behind those for both Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.
However, exceptions were observed in the presidential elections of both 2008 and 2012, when reported alternative voting increased among non-Hispanic blacks to a level not statistically different from both non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics in 2008, and to a level not statistically different from non-Hispanic whites but still trailing Hispanics in 2012.