As vote by mail becomes a more popular option during the 2020 presidential election due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you may be wondering where to get started. Many states have adjusted their mail-in and absentee ballot policies to make it easier for people to cast their votes — but the rules vary from state to state. To make sure you're prepared, here's how you can request an absentee ballot.
Like anything to do with voting, the specifics of what you need to do will vary state by state. While the terms mail-in and absentee voting are often correctly used interchangeably, voting with an absentee ballot is technically one way to vote by mail. For both mail-in ballots and absentee ballots, voters can either return their ballots by mail or in-person. Absentee ballots typically need to be requested by the voter, while the term “mail-in ballot” generally refers to when states with universal voting by mail send out ballots to all registered voters. However, only a handful of states do universal voting by mail, and the terms “mail-in ballot” and “absentee ballot” are often used to refer to the same thing.
If you've never voted by mail before, keep in mind that all states currently offer some form of mail-in voting for at least part of the population. While eligibility can vary depending on the state, a number of states have moved to automatically send all registered voters absentee ballots before Election Day, no request required. You can check here to see if you live in a state automatically mailing out mail-in ballots. You’ll also want to check the “receive by” deadlines in your state to make sure you return your ballot early enough for your vote to be counted.
As of Wednesday, Sept. 2, residents who are registered to vote will automatically receive a mail-in ballot in California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C., according to The New York Times. In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock is allowing individual counties to decide whether they'll send all constituents mail-in ballots. You can check to see if you’re registered to vote at Vote.org and USA.gov for free in just a matter of seconds.
States will send out absentee ballots as early as Thursday, Sept. 4, and most ballots should arrive about 3 to 6 weeks before the election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Currently, 39 states and Washington D.C. offer some sort of tracking for your mail-in ballot so you can know when it’s received, according to NBC News.
If you're a registered voter in the states of Delaware, Connecticut, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, or Massachusetts, you'll automatically be sent an absentee ballot application in the mail to the address on your voter registration, which you'll need to fill out before you receive your actual absentee ballot. You can also check here to see if you live in a state where you can directly request your absentee ballot online, so you don’t have to wait to receive your application in the mail.
If you don't automatically receive an application for an absentee ballot in the mail, you'll have to visit your local Secretary of State’s website or a comprehensive platform like Vote.gov to request an absentee ballot or application for your state. In some cases, some states allow you to request an application in person at your Secretary of State’s office and then vote the same day. If you need to send in an absentee ballot application, you should plan to do it as early as possible, especially in light of recent delays with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The USPS has advised voters to send in their applications no later than one week before depending on their state’s deadline for receipt. In addition, USPS urged voters to request their ballots at least 15 days before. Voters can find state deadlines for requesting absentee ballots at Vote.org/absentee-ballot.
For the 2020 election, all registered voters in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming will be able to send in an absentee ballot instead of voting in-person without needing an excuse, according to The Brookings Institute.
In light of the pandemic, many states have also changed their laws to allow a fear of contracting COVID-19 while voting in-person to be a valid excuse to request to vote by mail. However, if you're a resident in Louisiana or a resident in Indiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, or Texas who's not under a "physician-imposed quarantine" or a caretaker for someone who is, you’ll need to qualify for one of the other reasons to send in an absentee ballot, per The New York Times. Voters can keep an eye out on the latest COVID-19 election policies as documented by the NCSL.
As you fill out your absentee ballot, keep in mind that a number of states require signatures from voters and witnesses or notarizations along with your application, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. It’s also likely the due date or "receive by" date for your absentee ballot will be quite a bit earlier than Election Day, which is Nov. 3. Early 2020 in-person primary elections in Wisconsin and Georgia saw multi-hour waits at the polls, so voters hoping to vote by mail this year should get started on the process as early as possible or see if your state offers early in-person voting.
Your voice matters. So does your vote. Make sure both are heard and counted in the 2020 election by registering to vote right now.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.