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.

by Harry Cheadle
Apr 14 2020, 3:41pm

Collage by Hunter French | Images via Getty and Shutterstock.

Hours before last week's primary in Wisconsin, 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.

This type of chaos could 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.

Though the issue doesn't break down precisely on partisan lines, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to oppose efforts to expand voting by mail on the unproven grounds that it would make electoral crimes more common—Donald Trump recently called mail voting "corrupt" and "RIPE for FRAUD." That is disputed by reform advocates, who point to relatively fraud-free elections in all-mail states like Oregon. A slightly more complicated argument hinges on the practice of "vote harvesting," where a person gives their ballot to another person to drop off at the polling center, which Republican politicians have denounced as opening the door to mischief. Ballot harvesting is legal in California but illegal in many other states; last year a congressional election in North Carolina was thrown out after a Republican operative allegedly hired someone to harvest ballots from voters and fill them out afterward, which is illegal everywhere.

In its latest coronavirus relief bill, Congress gave $400 million to the states for election security, which could be used to expand voting by mail, and Congressional Democrats are pushing for more funding as part of the next legislative package. The Brennan Center, a law and policy institute that often covers election security and voting rights issues, estimates that securing the 2020 election against COVID-19 would cost $2 billion, most of which would go toward printing, posting and making sure voters had access to mail-in ballots.

While policymakers debate mail voting in the next seven months, individual voters can do their part to prepare themselves for a coronavirus election. 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.)

Even if you are in a state that only gives mail ballots to those who can't vote in person, those requirements may be tweaked in light of the pandemic, with some states already saying that for spring and summer elections, being worried about COVID-19 is a valid excuse to avoid the polls. "Some secretaries of state have made it clear that for the primary, concern about coronavirus will qualify as an illness or disability or something along those lines," Feldman said. "But it's really being done on a state by state basis right now."

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).

The good news is that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has said that concerns about the coronavirus count as a valid excuse for the upcoming primary runoff, which has been pushed back to July 14.

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. The Democratic Party has made its primary an all-mail affair, but it’s unclear whether other elections will be held entirely by mail. That uncertainty is all the more reason to apply for an absentee ballot today.

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, but despite Democrats calling for that to be expanded to the general election, no decision has been made there yet. As in Alabama, voters normally need a reason to request an absentee ballot, and it's not clear whether "I'm worried about the pandemic" will be a legal reason come November.

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.) Some counties are already contemplating an all-mail general election in light of the pandemic. For now, the normal rules apply, meaning if you want a mail-in ballot you need to request one.

California's absentee deadlines: Mail-in applications must be received seven days before an election, and 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, and voting by mail is available only to people who have a reason to need it. (Those with permanent disabilities can be put on a permanent absentee voter list.)

Update: 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, but the legislature is pushing to loosen those requirements in time for November. In the primary elections—which have been pushed back to June 2—anyone can vote absentee. Delaware allows people to request absentee ballots via an online form.

Delaware's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by the day before 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.

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's upcoming primary election will be mail-only. And though Idahoans will still have to request absentee ballots in order to vote, they can do so 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

Like a few other states, Indiana has moved back its primary date to June 2 and will allow anyone to vote by mail. As of now its normal restrictions on mail-in ballots remain in place for November, meaning you'll need a reason to get one—but anyone can vote absentee in-person, which is a good option if you want to avoid the Election Day crowds.

Indiana's absentee deadlines: Applications must be in 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 is sending all voters absentee applications in advance of the June 2 primary, and the state also offers no-excuse absentee voting.

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' Democratic Party is sending ballots to all its voters and conducting an all-mail election. While an all-mail general election is unlikely, at least the state allows no-excuse absentee voting, which Kansas calls "advance voting."

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

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear has said he wants the state to consider an all-mail primary election in June. But as it stands, Kentucky voters need a reason to request an absentee ballot.

Kentucky's absentee deadlines: Applications must be in a week before the election and ballots must be received by 6 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Louisiana

Louisiana has been hit by the pandemic especially hard, and its election officials have reached out to their counterparts in Washington State, which already conducts elections entirely by mail, for advice on what to do. But Louisiana is a long way from being able to hold elections by mail, since it currently doesn't allow no-excuse absentee voting. (It does allow eligible voters to apply online.)

Louisiana's absentee deadlines: Applications must be submitted four days before an election, and ballots must be received the night before Election Day in many cases. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Maine

Maine moved its scheduled primary back to July 14, and looking ahead to November it does allow no-excuse absentee voting.

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's Seventh Congressional District is holding the state's first-ever mail-only election on April 28 to replace Congressman Elijah Cummings, who died in office last October. It remains to be seen if the entire state uses that system in November, but it already has a no-excuse absentee system that includes a way for people to apply online.

Maryland's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received a week before an election. 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 has touted a plan that would require all states to move to a vote-by-mail system, but her home state has not even adopted no-excuse absentee voting. Massachusetts has passed a new law, however, that clarifies that taking precautions against COVID-19 counts as a valid reason to get an absentee ballot.

Massachusetts' absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by the day before an election, and ballots must be received by the close of the polls on Election Day. 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 a May election.

Michigan's absentee deadlines: Requests must be received the Friday before an election, and ballots must be received by the end of 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 and ballots must be received by the close of polls 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.

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

How to Vote by Mail in Missouri

Missouri officials are discussing how they might deal with voting in a pandemic, which might include loosening its restrictions on absentee ballots. For now, you need a reason to request permission to vote by mail.

Missouri's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received, confusingly, by the second Wednesday before the election, and ballots must be received by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Montana

Montana has 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 the day before the election and ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Nebraska

Republican Governor Pete Ricketts has suspended in-person early voting and is encouraging Nebraskans to vote by mail in the May 12 primary, which they can because the state allows no-excuse absentee voting. Some counties have already adopted all-mail elections.

Nebraska's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received, confusingly, by the second Friday before an election and the ballot must be received by the close of polls on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Nevada

Like several states, Nevada is conducting its June primary mostly by mail. It also has no-excuse absentee voting, and offers to put people on a permanent absentee voter list.

Nevada's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received two weeks before an election, and ballots must be in by 7 p.m. on Election Day. 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 this week 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 and the ballot must be returned by Election Day. More information here

How to Vote by Mail in New Jersey

Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has pushed back the primary election to July 7 in part to help officials prepare for a potential all-mail election. It already has no-excuse absentee voting in place.

New Jersey's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received a week before the election, and ballots must be received by the end of 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: Applications must be received four days before an election, and ballots must be in by 7 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in New York

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has 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

The Board of Elections has asked lawmakers to consider measures to make it easier to vote by mail, including creating an online portal for absentee applications. Since Republicans control both houses of the legislature, it's unclear how likely changes are. The state does offer no-excuse absentee voting already, though it requires ballots to be witnessed by two people or a notary.

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, a requirement reform advocates are trying to change as states consider voting by mail more closely.

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. 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 is reportedly considering loosening its restrictions on voting by mail for its June 9 primary, but even if it did so its unclear what that would mean for the November general election. It 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, which is likely to proceed with its local elections and primaries in August, is one of the states that restricts absentee access. Anyone over 60 can vote by mail, but younger voters must have a valid reason. The state does provide early voting to everyone, however, 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 a week before the election, while ballots must be in by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Texas

Texas state officials have been saying that local elections scheduled for May should be postponed, but not all cities and towns have done so. Meanwhile, the Texas Democratic Party is suing the state to widen access to absentee ballots, which are currently available only to voters who are 65 or older, are disabled or have another reason they can't vote in person.

Texas's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received 11 days before the election, and the deadline for ballots themselves is Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Utah

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

How to Vote by Mail in Vermont

Vermont has changed its elections procedures already by now allowing candidates to run for office without collecting signatures, a tricky proposition in the age of social distancing. Officials might make further changes by November, including mailing a ballot to every registered voter. The state already allows no-excuse absentee voting and lets you apply for a ballot online.

Vermont's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by the day before the election, while ballots are due by Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Virginia

Virginia, which only recently came under Democratic control, has just 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, though first-time voters have to cast their ballot in person. Additionally, the Virginia Department of Elections has said that concerns about coronavirus count as an excuse to vote by mail in the May and June elections. (Voters can apply online.)

Virginia's absentee deadlines: Mail applications must be received seven days before the election; ballots must be received by the end of Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Washington

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

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

The D.C. Board of Elections has been criticized for its lack of competence, but at least it is encouraging voters to cast ballots by mail in its upcoming June primary. The capital allows anyone to request an absentee ballot.

Washington, D.C.'s absentee deadline: Applications must be received seven days before the election; ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no more than seven days later. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in West Virginia

West Virginia is among the states sending absentee applications to all registered voters. But ordinarily, the state restricts absentee access to those who can't vote in person. It remains to be seen what the state will do in November.

West Virginia's absentee deadlines: 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 no more than five days later. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Wisconsin

Wisconsin obviously received a lot of criticism for not delaying its primary amid the pandemic, but there's still time for officials to move to a more mail-friendly system in November if one is required. At least the state allows no-excuse absentee voting and lets people apply via email.

Wisconsin's absentee voting: Applications must be received five days before the election and ballots must be in by 8 p.m. on Election Day. More information here.

How to Vote by Mail in Wyoming

The state's political parties made changes to their primary procedures to reduce in-person contact, and Wyoming already allows no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.

Wyoming's absentee deadlines: Applications must be received by the day before the election, while ballots are due by Election Day. More information here.

CORRECTION 4/15: An earlier version of this article stated that ballots in Washington, D.C., must be received by Election Day when in fact ballots postmarked by Election Day are accepted.

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