One of the dramatic changes in the 2008 election was the significant increase in the number of voters who cast their ballots before Election Day, Nov. 4. About a third of voters (34%) said they cast their ballots before Election Day, up from only 20% in 2004 and 2006. Almost one-in-five (19%) said they voted early in person and 14% said they voted early by mail. The number of early voters is expected to increase in this year’s election, analysts predict.

Early voters and Election Day voters were nearly identical in their preferences in 2008: 53% of early voters and 50% of those who voted on Election Day cast their ballots for Barack Obama. Similarly, 43% of early voters supported John McCain, compared with 45% of Election Day voters.

Women were more likely than men to vote early, particularly by mail. Women made up 60% of early voters overall, and 66% of those voting by mail. Early voters also were older than those who voted on Election Day. A quarter of early voters were 65 or older compared with 18% of all voters. Nearly a third (32%) of voters who mailed their ballots were 65 or older. There were no significant differences in when people cast their ballot by education or income.

Nearly half of those who voted early (48%) said they did so because they thought the process would be more accessible or convenient than voting on Election Day; 31% said they wanted to avoid lines or crowds at the polling place, 11% said they voted early for convenience, and 5% said they thought it would be easier to vote. Early voters who cast their ballots in person were much more likely to say they voted early to avoid waiting in line than those who voted by mail (41% vs. 16%). Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.