SHERIDAN — Early voting for Wyoming’s primary elections began Friday morning and the practice is an increasingly popular option for Sheridan County voters.

County Clerk and Recorder Eda Schunk Thompson said the county sees an increase in early voters every election cycle.

Thompson said the county saw about 400 more early ballots in the 2016 primary elections compared to 2014, but the number of early ballots in the general election in 2016 increased by nearly 50 percent.

She also said the county has seen bumps in voter registration in time for early voting every election cycle. As of July 1, 14,969 voters have registered for this year’s election in Sheridan County; on July 1 in 2016, 11,882 voters had registered.

“Early voting” is technically absentee voting, but voters do not have to provide a reason for why they cannot vote the day of the election.

“Most people still don’t realize that,” Thompson said. “You can request an absentee ballot simply because it’s more convenient.”

The rise in early voting has also changed the way some campaigns are conducted.

Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, who will retire from the Senate at the end of his current term, said early voting caused him to begin campaigning earlier, but it did not increase the amount of money or time he spent on his campaign.

“I started getting everything out earlier — my mailings and my signs and so forth — because more and more people seemed to be voting early,” Burns said.

Burns said he normally started sending out campaign materials right around when early voting started, though he admitted his schedule might be different than most candidates.

“I do the [Fourth of July] fireworks show [in Sheridan], so my summer doesn’t start until now,” Burns said. “And my campaign season wouldn’t start until now.”

Burns added that one of the benefits of early voting was it reduced the effectiveness of last-minute smear campaigns against candidates.

County Commissioner Steve Maier, who will also retire at the end of this term, said he did not have to worry about early voting the first time he ran, and by the time early voting began, he had the benefit of running as an incumbent.

“I had some name recognition by that point, so I felt fairly comfortable,” Maier said. “We have a lot of folks running that…I’ve never met and never heard of and I suppose that’s true for a lot of voters.”

This year, Maier said he is concerned about people voting before they have had a chance to fully consider the candidates. The county commissioners’ race has an especially crowded field this year with 11 candidates and Maier said citizens likely have not heard from many of them.

“The reality is, the people voting [Friday] really haven’t had the opportunity to see those people vetted publicly,” Maier said. “…For the most part, what I know about the candidates is what they’ve put out in their advertising. I would like to have the opportunity to hear them answer some questions in a public setting and unfortunately that doesn’t occur until we’re already well into early voting.”

Thompson stressed that voters still have time to register and will also be able to register at the polls on election day.

Voters can request early ballots by phone, email or in person at the county elections office. For absentee ballots to be counted, they need to be delivered to the county election office by 7 p.m. on election day. The primary election will be held Aug. 21.