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Election Day is still 42 days out, but for many voters ballot-casting is already underway. Last week, South Dakota and Idaho (both red states) began allowing citizens to vote early. And on Thursday voting will begin in Iowa, a contested state where President Obama currently leads in the polls.
States are making it much easier to vote—early voting is available in 32 of them, plus Washington—and people are taking advantage of it. In 2008, a record 30 percent of Americans cast ballots before Election Day. That number was even higher in Nevada, Florida, and Colorado—all contested states. Voters in Oregon and Washington don’t even have to show up at the polls; they vote by mail. And registration is getting easier: In August, New York became the 11th state to allow it online.
These improvements have come in tandem with a spate of new laws that their GOP backers say are meant to curtail voter fraud and that civil rights groups say restrict voting. Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Mississippi no longer let citizens vote without government-issued photo identification. Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee have the same rule—and also require voters to show proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Illinois and Texas have passed laws restricting voter registration drives. Georgia and West Virginia—plus Florida and Ohio, both hotly contested—shortened the time period in which early voting can take place. (Fighting over laws in Ohio and Florida continues in court.)
In all, 25 such laws were passed in 19 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Together those states total more than 80 percent of electoral college votes, the center says.
Still, roughly 45 million Americans, according to the Los Angeles Times, are expected to cast ballots before Nov. 6. The race will soon be over for much of the country—just as the debates begin to air.