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How does early voting work in the US election?

Graphic shows early voting and vote processing benchmarks by state;
Graphic shows early voting and vote processing benchmarks by state;

WASHINGTON – WHAT STATES VOTE EARLY, AND WHEN ARE THOSE VOTES COUNTED?

All states allow some form of early voting, be it by casting votes in person at polling places, voting by mail, or both. But each state has its own rules and timelines on when this occurs. Some started in September. Some don’t start until mid-October, or even closer to Election Day on Nov. 3.

Just as there are 50 different timelines for early voting, there are 50 different ones for how the votes are counted. Some states allow the “processing” of mail-in ballots — the often time-consuming flattening and opening of envelopes, verifying signatures and sorting ballots into the correct piles for tabulation — to begin as many as three weeks before Election Day. Some only allow it to begin on Election Day itself, which can lead to a chaotic and lengthy count.

That’s the process in several key swing states. Democrats fear this will delay the count of mail-in ballots, expected to heavily favor Democrats, and give President Donald Trump a misleading early lead that he could seize on to declare the election over.

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This is a new series from the AP dedicated to answering commonly asked questions from our audience about the 2020 U.S. presidential election. AP’s Advance Voting guide brings you the facts about voting early, by mail or absentee from each state: https://interactives.ap.org/advance-voting-2020/