Brian in Ohio sends us a question about early & absentee voting that we should have answered a long time ago:

“I love your stuff! Is there any way you could write something about absentee voting. I run campaigns and would love to get your insights (right now, a contested Court of Appeals race). I think it is going to be a BIG issue in the future.”
You’re exactly right, Brian: absentee voting–and early voting–is already a big deal here in Ohio, and is going to become an even bigger deal with each election cycle.

early absentee votingI don’t know many details about early & absentee voting in other states, but Ohio allows voters to start casting absentee ballots 35 days before the date of the primary or general election. The percentage of absentee voters rises every year as citizens learn more about the process, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some counties start seeing more people vote absentee than actually come to polling places to vote on election day.

This is a huge game-changer for political candidates who would traditionally ramp up their campaign in the final few weeks of the season in anticipation of the vast majority of ballots being cast on election day. With the high percentage of absentee voters, a candidate in Ohio doesn’t have that luxury anymore.

There are plenty of ways that you can tweak a traditional campaign plan to take advantage of the increasing number of early voters. One important change that I made was to make sure that I ramp up door-to-door and direct mail efforts in the month prior to the absentee vote date . . . not election day, as I did in the past.

In other words, it helps to look at the day that absentee voting starts as election day, and make sure that you’ve thoroughly canvassed the neighborhoods in your district by then. I also make sure that I send out at least one district-wide mailer in the week before the absentee date to remind residents about early voting and reinforce my campaign message.

Of course, you should continue working as hard as you can in the final month of election season, keep knocking on doors, and send out more direct mail. After all, there will still be a large amount of voters casting their ballots on election day, and absentee voters can send their ballots in at any time during the final month of the campaign.

By working hard to ensure that voters know who you are by the day that absentee voting starts, though, you’ll have a huge early advantage over your opponent. In my last campaign, I was amazed at how many other candidates didn’t even really start to ramp things up until the last few weeks of the election . . . when absentee voting had actually started weeks earlier.

Here’s another great thing about working hard to reach out to the early voters: the first votes that get counted and released by the Board of Elections on election night are the absentees. If you’ve done a good job with the absentees, then that means that the first batch of numbers that are released will show you ahead of the rest of the pack.

Of course, winning the absentee vote doesn’t always mean that you’ll go on to win the election . . . but it’s still a good feeling and a good indicator of success when you see that early voters were solidly in your corner.


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