Voting by mail lets your voice be heard, even when you’ll be away from home on Election Day or if you would prefer not to vote in person.
Voting by mail is designed to make voting accessible for anyone who can’t make it to their polling place on Election Day or for anyone who prefers to not vote in person. Some states require excuses for voting by mail while others allow anyone to do so.
A SIMPLE SUMMARY
Voting absentee is a great way to let your voice be heard during elections where you can’t get to your polling place. This might include college students registered in different states, military service members overseas, or Americans abroad.
Because absentee voting happens by sending your ballot to your county Elections Board via the Post Office, you may hear it called “voting by mail.” While this is true, it’s a slightly different process than the 100% vote-by-mail strategy employed by states like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.
The deadlines and rules for absentee voting vary by state and are different from voting in person. Make sure you read the rules for the state you are currently registered to vote in, not the state you’ll be in when you want to vote absentee.
HOW DO I VOTE BY MAIL?
If this will be your first time voting absentee, it can be pretty different from voting in person at a polling place! Here’s a few steps you’ll likely take, although the exact process can vary from state to state.
- Ensure you’re registered to vote at your current address before your state’s deadline
- Request a mail-in ballot from your state before the deadline by following instructions on your state’s website
- Wait for the ballot to arrive in the mail. Once it does, take a moment and study up on who and what you’ll vote for, as well as any enclosed instructions about returning the ballot
- Fill out your ballot according to the instructions and send it back by the deadline indicated
VOTE BY MAIL FAQ
Some states have specific requirements around who can request a mail-in ballot, but many make the option available to everyone with no excuse needed. The COVID-19 pandemic has made voter interest in absentee options skyrocket, and many states have started enacting legislation that could make it easier for their voters to cast their ballots remotely. For the latest information about voting absentee in your state, always check your state’s website.CHECK THE RULES IN YOUR STATE
Once your ballot has arrived by mail to the Elections Board, there will be a number of checks in place to verify that you were the individual to cast your vote. This is often done through signature verification to match your ballot with your signature on file. States have different procedures for processing mail-in ballots. Some begin prior to Election Day and others start after Election Day. Either way, mail-in ballots are counted in all elections, not just those with close races!
In most states, yes! If you’ve received your absentee ballot in the mail but haven’t returned it yet, simply bring it with you to your polling place on Election Day. You’ll surrender it to the polling place workers in exchange for the right to vote in person. If you’ve already sent in your absentee ballot, it may be more difficult to change your mind. In some states, you can visit your local Election clerk office and “spoil” your ballot, effectively cancelling it. You can then request a new absentee ballot or vote in-person at a polling place. Check your state’s website or call your local Elections officials to check how to best approach the situation based on local laws and expectations. You can also call Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Early voting takes place in-person at a polling place. Vote by mail is always handled by mail, as it’s aimed to be accessible to voters who will be away from their homes around Election Day or those who choose not to vote in person. Both early voting and mail-in voting allow voters to cast their ballots before Election Day.