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Coronavirus

How to Vote by Mail in All 50 States

States are scrambling to hold elections in a pandemic. You should be preparing to vote by mail.
September 10, 2020, 5:15pm
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Hours before the primary election in Wisconsin in April, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court commanded officials to go ahead with the election as planned. The pair of rulings—issued in both cases by courts controlled by Republican-appointed judges—meant that Democratic Governor Tony Evers' last-minute order to delay the election was overruled and a deadline for absentee ballots could not be extended. Some people who had requested absentee ballots had not received them yet due to the deluge of requests; those Wisconsinites had to choose between standing in hours-long lines to vote at an extremely limited number of polling stations, risking exposure to COVID-19, or not voting at all. In the aftermath, 14 Milwaukee voters filed a lawsuit demanding a revote and arguing that they had been effectively disenfranchised.

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This type of chaos is shaping up to be a preview of the November general election. Even if the world finds a way to get the pandemic under control, experts are predicting that the virus may come back in the fall as temperatures drop, and depending on the country's ability to test for and treat the coronavirus, in-person voting could still remain a risk. That prospect has voting reform advocates demanding that the whole country do what a few states have done already and conduct elections entirely by mail.

All states currently allow some voters to cast ballots by mail, but restrictions on who can do so vary. Many have what's called no-excuse absentee voting, meaning voters can request a mail-in ballot without having to provide a reason. The rest require you to explain why you can't vote in person—acceptable common excuses include serving in the military, having an illness or disability that prevents you from getting to the polls or working long hours on Election Day. Some states let voters over 60 or 65 cast absentee ballots without providing another reason.

Months after the first coronavirus-inflected election fiascos, all states have expanded their mail-in voting policies to provide for pandemic concerns. States that haven’t fully pivoted to providing mail-in ballots by default, like California, have added the pandemic as an available given reason for requesting a ballot (and it’s important to note virtually all of these given reason entries don’t require a person actually be currently ill with COVID-19, only that they have reasonable concern that venturing out in public could endanger them or people close to them.—aka all of us).

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Given that Wisconsin—one of the no-excuse absentee states—had such a difficult time processing all the absentee requests, it's probably a good idea to ask for such a ballot as soon as you can, said Max Feldman, counsel at Brennan's Voting Rights and Elections Program. It's an even better idea to make sure that you're registered to vote, which you can do with Vote.org's online tool.

"Voters should really try to be aware of the rules and deadlines that are applicable in the election, and do what they can well in advance to be prepared to cast the ballot in the midst of a crisis," Feldman said.

Voting absentee is generally less of a hassle than going to your polling place, but you should still be prepared for an annoying multi-step process. Unless you're in a state where online applications are available, you'll need to print out, sign and physically mail an absentee ballot application, and in some states you have only a specific window of time in which to apply for, receive and mail back a ballot. Some states allow you to be placed on a permanent vote by mail list, but others require you to apply for an absentee ballot for every election. In most states, you must mail your application and your ballot to your local election official, whose address you'll have to find online. Some jurisdictions cover the cost of postage for absentee ballots, but it varies state by state and county by county. (In 2018, however, ProPublica reported that it was an "open secret among election officials" that the Postal Service will deliver ballots even without stamps.)

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Here's a state-by-state breakdown of what you need to do—and when—in order to ensure you can vote by mail in November:

How to Vote by Mail in Alabama

Alabama is particularly strict about its absentee requirements. Republican Governor Kay Ivey is on the record as opposing all-mail elections even with coronavirus afoot. A law passed last year requires a copy of your photo ID to be submitted with an absentee application, in most cases you have to submit an application for each election and when you fill out your ballot it has to be witnessed by a notary or two people over the age of 18 (that's obviously a tricky requirement for anyone socially distancing).

Alabama's absentee deadlines: Absentee requests must be received by your county at least five days before the election, and the ballots themselves have to be mailed back the day before Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Alaska

Alaska is one of the many states where voters can receive an absentee ballot without providing a reason why they will be unable to get to the polls. If you have a valid state ID or driver’s license, you can apply online. If not, you must print and hand-sign this form.

Alaska's absentee deadlines: Absentee requests must be received by the state absentee officers at least 10 days before an election. Your ballot must be postmarked by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Arizona

Arizona has something called a Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL), which allows voters to request mail-in ballots for every election going forward. You don't need a reason to get on the PEVL, and you can look up where to send the application on your country's elections department website. You can also request no-excuse absentee ballots for individual elections, and in some counties, like Maricopa, you can make those requests online.

Arizona's absentee deadlines: Requests must be received by your county 11 days before an election. Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Consult your county website for more information.

How to Vote by Mail in Arkansas

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson has adopted no-excuse absentee voting for some primaries. As a result of the pandemic, the state has adopted a policy as of July 22 where people who conclude that voting in person poses a danger to their health or the health of those around them may file for an absentee ballot.

Arkansas' absentee deadlines: If you are applying by mail, an absentee request must be received seven days before an election. Ballots must be received by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in California

Like many states, California allows everyone to vote by mail, and has been inching toward an all-mail system. (As in Arizona, voters can request to be put on a permanent mail-in ballot list.) On May 8, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order stating every registered California voter will receive a mail-in ballot by November 3, though in-person voting locations will also be available.

California's absentee deadlines: Because mail-in ballots will be issued by default to registered voters, no application is necessary. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received three days later. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Colorado

Every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot already. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Connecticut

It's not just Republican-dominated Southern states that restrict access to absentee ballots. Connecticut has resisted liberal calls to go to a no-excuse system. But as a result of the pandemic, Connecticut is now allowing all voters to cast ballots by mail, and will be sending out absentee applications to all registered voters.

Connecticut's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by your town clerk the day before the election, and ballots must be received by the close of polls on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Delaware

Delaware requires voters to give a reason to get an absentee ballot. As of March 24, pandemic-related health concerns, including “practicing self-quarantining or social distancing,” are considered a valid reason on the application (Delaware’s elections site indicates this is option number 3, “I am sick, or temporarily or permanently physically disabled”).

Delaware's absentee deadlines: Applications can be filed online, and the last day ballots are sent out is four days before the election (Delaware’s site notes applications should be filed “ideally no later than one week prior to the election.” Ballots must be in by the close of polls on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Florida

Florida is notorious for mismanaging elections, and county officials are warning that the state isn't equipped to handle an all-mail election in November should it come to that. But at least anyone can request an absentee ballot without a reason, and those requests can be made on county websites.

Florida's absentee deadlines: Requests must be in 10 days before an election, and the ballot must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Georgia

Georgia allows no-excuse absentee voting, and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger responded to the pandemic by mailing absentee applications to all the state's voters for the May 19 primary. The major controversy may be that like some states, Georgia asks absentee voters to pay for postage, a requirement that is being challenged in a lawsuit that claims it amounts to a poll tax (at least one story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution claims that the Postal Service will deliver ballots even without stamps, but… we don’t know about taking risks with the USPS right now).

Georgia's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received the Friday before an election, and ballots must be in by the close of the polls on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Hawaii

Every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot already. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Idaho

Idaho is set to resume in-person voting for the general election, but Idahoans can request absentee ballots either via a mail-in application or online via a notably sleek website. Idaho also offers no-excuse absentee voting.

Idaho's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received 11 days before the election. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Illinois

Illinois offers no-excuse absentee voting, and a record number of people in Cook County voted by mail during the March primary, offering a preview of a November election that will likely be conducted heavily through the mail.

Illinois' absentee deadlines: Applications must be received five days before the election and ballots must be in by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Indiana

As of now Indiana’s normal restrictions on mail-in ballots remain in place for November, meaning you'll need a reason in order to get one. But anyone can vote absentee in-person, and the state has waived the need to submit an application to do so for this election. It’s also requiring all counties to make in-person absentee voting available the two Saturdays immediately before the election, so this is a good option if you want to vote early and avoid the crowds.

Indiana's absentee deadlines: Applications must be in by 12 days before the election and absentee in-person voting begins 28 days before Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Iowa

Iowa offers no-excuse absentee voting, but does require registered voters to print, sign, and mail in an application in order to do so.

Iowa's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received 10 days before the election, and ballots must be postmarked the Monday before Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Kansas

Kansas also allows registered voters to apply for no-excuse absentee "advance voting," and now features a tool that tracks absentee ballot status on its VoterView website.

Kansas' absentee deadlines: Applications must be received a week before the election, and ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than three days afterward. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Kentucky

Kentucky residents “concerned with contracting or spreading COVID-19” are now allowed to request a ballot by mail for the general election, and can do so via an online voter information portal with a really cool horse in its logo.

Kentucky's absentee deadlines: Applications must be in by October 9, 2020 and ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by 6 p.m. on November 6, 2020. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Louisiana

Louisiana still doesn't allow no-excuse absentee voting, and none of its current reasons for absentee voting directly address COVID-19, though anyone over the age of 65, clergy members, and the “temporarily absent” may all apply. (The state does allow eligible voters to apply online.)

Louisiana's absentee deadlines: Applications must be submitted four days before an election, and general absentee ballots must be received by 4:30pm the day before Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Maine

Maine is set to allow no-excuse absentee voting, and registered voters can request their ballots via phone, online portal, or via written application. Voters can also obtain absentee ballots for their immediate family members by contacting their municipal clerk.

Maine's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by the third business day before an election. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Maryland

Maryland already has a no-excuse absentee system that includes a way for people to apply online. Not too crabby!

Maryland's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by October 20, 2020. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received 10 days later. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to require all states to move to a vote-by-mail system does not seem primed to come to fruition, but her state has passed a new law that clarifies that taking precautions against COVID-19 counts as a valid reason to get an absentee ballot.

The state has since made a vote by mail application available for all registered voters to print from home and mail in to their local election office. People without printer access can also write and sign a letter—which must include their name, local address, and where they want their ballot mailed—to their local election office in order to apply. Once you submit it, you can also track your ballot online.

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Massachusetts' absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by October 28, 2020 and ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day and received by November 6, 2020. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Michigan

Michigan is a no-excuse absentee voting state, and officials are mailing absentee applications to all registered voters in advance of the November election.

Michigan's absentee deadlines: Requests must be received the Friday before an election, and completed ballots must be received by the city or township clerk by 8 p.m. Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Minnesota

Election officials in Minnesota are asking the state to look at going to an all-mail system, but Republican legislators oppose expanding mail voting on the usual grounds that it will supposedly lead to increased fraud. But at least the state has no-excuse absentee voting, and also lets people apply via email.

Minnesota's absentee deadlines: Applications are due the day before the election (but you should apply with enough time for the ballot to be mailed to you). Completed ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received by November 10. You may also return the ballot in person to the election office that sent it to you no later than 3 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Mississippi

Mississippi's strict absentee voting system—which doesn't allow no-excuse voting—has come under criticism before. In 2018, the state was sued for not giving voters enough time to fill out and get their ballots notarized during a runoff election. There's no sign it is moving to a vote-by-mail system in 2020, though the ACLU filed a lawsuit in August to make absentee voting more accessible this year.

Mississippi's absentee deadlines: Ballots must be received by 5 p.m. the day before Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Missouri

Missouri normally requires an excuse to vote with an absentee ballot, but, as of June 2020, will allow mail-in voting without a reason for the general election.

Missouri's absentee deadlines: Applications for absentee ballots and mail-in ballots must be received, confusingly, no later than 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday before the election, and completed ballots must be received by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Montana

Montana made its June 2 primary an all-mail election, and it already allowed for no-excuse absentee voting.

Montana's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by noon the day before the election (though you should allow time for the ballot to be mailed to you) and completed ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Nebraska

Nebraska allows no-excuse early (absentee) voting. Some counties have already adopted all-mail elections.

Nebraska's absentee deadlines: October 23, 2020 is the last day to request a ballot be mailed to you; you can make the request in person or via mail, fax, or email. The completed ballot must be received by the close of polls on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Nevada

The 2020 general election is a “hybrid” election. All active registered voters will be sent a ballot in the mail, but voters can vote in person instead of casting a ballot by mail if they want to.

Nevada's absentee deadlines: If you have not received your ballot in the mail within a week of your county's ballot mailing date, you should contact your county election office to notify them of the problem. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than seven days after the election. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in New Hampshire

New Hampshire normally requires voters to provide a reason to vote by mail, but in April officials announced that the state would allow no-excuse absentee voting in this year's elections, including the November general election.

New Hampshire's absentee deadlines: Applications must be in the day before an election (though you should allow time for the ballot to be mailed to you). The envelopes containing your completed absentee ballot must be received by the clerk no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day. More information here

How to Vote by Mail in New Jersey

New Jersey has no-excuse absentee voting in place; you can request the ballot by mail or in person.

New Jersey's absentee deadlines: Mailed applications must be received by October 23; in-person requests can be made until 3 p.m. on November 2. Completed ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in New Mexico

Republicans in New Mexico are suing to stop the implementation of an all-mail primary election, setting up a battle that could mirror what took place in Wisconsin. Regardless of the outcome of that court case, New Mexico allows no-excuse absentee voting, and lets people apply online.

New Mexico's absentee deadlines: Absentee ballot requests submitted via the state’s website or through the mail must be received by 5 p.m. on October 20. Completed ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The state suggests putting completed ballots in the mail by October 27, or, as an alternative, dropping the ballot off at your county clerk’s office or any polling location during early voting or on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in New York

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo instituted no-excuse absentee voting for June elections in response to the coronavirus—which just underscores the oddity that New York, one of the most progressive states in the U.S., had such a limited mail voting system in the first place. Its voting apparatus, which seems designed to make it hard for people to cast ballots, has been widely criticized before. Maybe the pandemic will result in lasting reforms that advocates have been asking for for years?

New York's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received seven days before an election and ballots must be received by the end of Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in North Carolina

All voters in North Carolina can request to vote by mail without needing to name a special circumstance or excuse, after the Board of Elections asked lawmakers to consider measures to make it easier to vote by mail, including creating an online portal for absentee applications. North Carolina voters were the first to get their mail-in ballots, after a significant spike in requests, and have already begun casting votes for the election.

North Carolina's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received the Tuesday before an election, and ballots must be in by 5 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in North Dakota

A majority of North Dakota counties already run all-mail elections, and anyone can get an absentee ballot through an online application.

North Dakota's absentee deadlines: Ballots must be postmarked the day before the election and received six days after Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Ohio

Ohio is one of the states conducting an all-absentee primary; it is allowing people to pick up applications in grocery stores. It also has no-excuse absentee voting and online applications.

Ohio's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received three days before an election, and ballots must be received by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has no-excuse absentee voting and online applications, but it also requires ballots to be notarized or witnessed. The governor declared a COVID-19 state of emergency that gives slightly more flexibility for mail-in voting, and a recently passed state bill expands the previous definitions for “physically incapacitated” absentee ballot affidavits. Now voters who meet one of several “physically incapacitated” criteria (they do not need to specify which one) can vote by mail by either having two witnesses, or mailing in a copy of a valid form of ID.

Oklahoma's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by the Wednesday before an election, and ballots must be in by 7 p.m. the day before Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Oregon

Every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot already.

Oregon’s absentee deadlines: All absentee ballots must be mailed by October 29. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Pennsylvania

In October, Pennsylvania passed a law reforming its election system that included no-excuse absentee voting, which turned out to be extremely timely. Even better, you can apply for a mail-in ballot online.

Pennsylvania's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received a week before the election, and ballots must be in by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Rhode Island

Like many states, Rhode Island has pushed back its primary to June and appears to be preparing for an all- or mostly-mail election by sending a mail-in ballot application to all voters. Anyone can apply for a mail ballot in Rhode Island, but the state's application deadline is unusually long at 21 days.

Rhode Island's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received 21 days before an election, and ballots must be received by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in South Carolina

South Carolina remains a state where only those who meet certain requirements can vote by mail—notably, anyone over 65 can get an absentee ballot.

South Carolina's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received four days before the election, and ballots must be received by the end of Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in South Dakota

Like many states, South Dakota is mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters in advance of the primary election in response to the pandemic. Its ordinary no-excuse absentee voting rules will be in effect in November even if it doesn't do something similar for the general election.

South Dakota's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received the day before the election, and ballots must be received by the end of Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Tennessee

Tennessee is one of the states that restricts absentee access. Anyone over 60 can vote by mail, but younger voters must have a valid reason. (These reasons, as they relate to COVID-19 susceptibility for voters who are high-risk or caregivers of high-risk people, do not require medical documentation—you just have to check a box if they apply to you.) The state does provide early in-person voting to everyone, which could be a useful alternative for those concerned about the pandemic in November.

Tennessee's absentee deadlines: Requests for mail-in ballots must be received by October 27, while ballots themselves must be in (not just mailed, but received) by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Texas

To vote early by mail in Texas, you must be over 65, disabled, incarcerated, and/or out of the county on Election Day and during the early in-person voting period. (The first day of the early voting period is October 13, and the last is October 30.) Texas's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received (not sent) by October 23, and the deadline for ballots themselves (again, received, not postmarked) is Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Utah

Every registered voter receives a mail-in ballot sent to their address automatically. Ballots must be postmarked by November 2, or dropped off in person at an official drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Vermont

You do not need to state a reason to qualify for an absentee ballot. You can apply online, by mail, or in person. Applications must be received by the day before the election, while ballots themselves must be returned by Election Day. (For those who are sick or disabled, you can request that an absentee ballot be dropped off at your home until 5 p.m. on the day before the election. Two officials will bring it to you, then deliver it to a ballot box.) More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Virginia

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Earlier this year, Virginia passed a suite of reforms designed to make it easier to vote. Election Day is now a holiday, and everyone can vote absentee without an excuse (except some first-time voters, who will have to cast their ballots in person—though some exceptions, including pregnancy, attending school out of state, and disability, apply). Due to COVID-19, Virginia has suspended its requirements that absentee ballots involve a witness, as well, and prepaid return postage is provided with absentee ballots.

Mail applications for absentee ballots must be received seven days before the election; ballots themselves must be received by mail by 7 p.m. on Election Day—but also may be faxed, dropped off, or scanned and attached to an email. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Washington

Every registered voter gets a mail-in ballot automatically, including pre-paid postage for returning it, at least 18 days prior to November 3. Your ballot may be postmarked up to—but no later than—Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Washington, D.C.

All registered voters will automatically receive an absentee ballot by mail during the first week of October. If you need a ballot sent to somewhere other than your registered address, you may request one here, with a deadline of seven days before Election Day.  All ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no more than 10 days later. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in West Virginia

West Virginia is among the states that has extended absentee ballots to all voters because of COVID-19. Applications must be received six days before the election, and ballots must be received by the end of Election Day or else postmarked by Election Day and received by the Monday after a general election. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Wisconsin

Wisconsin allows no-excuse absentee voting and lets people apply for ballots via email. Applications must be received five days before the election and ballots must be delivered—not postmarked—by 8 p.m. on Election Day. (Per Wisconsin's website, "The U.S. Postal Service recommends absentee ballots be mailed one week before Election Day to arrive in time.") More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Wyoming

Wyoming allows no-excuse absentee voting and early voting. You can request an absentee ballot any day before Election Day, and they must be delivered by 7 p.m. on Election Day itself. More information here.