How do absentee ballots work?

Mailing an absentee ballot is one of the many ways to vote if you are unable to visit the polls in person on Election Day 2020. Absentee ballots allow eligible citizens to vote form almost anywhere and have their votes count in upcoming elections.

Typically, military members who are stationed outside of their home states and citizens living overseas participate in absentee voting. However, other citizens also may qualify for this type of voting depending on their state and circumstances.

Early Voting vs. Absentee Voting

Many voters are not aware of the difference between early voting and absentee voting. Both terms are used frequently during the election season. However, there are key differences to understand between them. When you vote early, you still visit a polling place and cast a ballot in person, but you do so before Election Day.

Most states have an early voting period, but the length of that period varies by state. Early voting typically takes place up to 45 days before Election Day. In this case, voters are not required to provide a reason for voting early.

Absentee voting, on the other hand, usually means sending a vote-by-mail ballot before Election Day. While it is a form of early voting, some states require a valid excuse, such as a disability, lack of transportation and work obligations.

You may be able to submit an in-person absentee ballot. However, this also depends on the state in which you live.

Who qualifies for an absentee ballot?

The restrictions for who can vote by mail vary greatly by state. Currently, 21 states and U.S. territories require voters to have a valid excuse for absentee voting. However, many others do not.

In Arizona, for instance, any registered voter has the option of submitting a mail-in ballot. However, in states like New York, Louisiana and Delaware, voters must meet specific requirements to qualify.

Acceptable excuses to qualify for an absentee ballot include:

  • Temporarily living outside the United States.
  • Being on active duty as a military service member.
  • Having a physical disability that makes it difficult or impossible to get to a polling place.
  • Election Day falling on a religious holiday that prohibits such activities.
  • Not having transportation to get to the polls.

Voters who are older than a certain age or have a disability may also qualify for absentee voting.

The first step in determining if you qualify for an absentee ballot is learning about the election laws in your state. This will let you know under what conditions you may be eligible to vote by mail.

Some states allow eligible voters to join a permanent absentee ballot list. Currently, only Arizona, California, the District of Columbia (D.C.), Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey and Utah offer this option.

How to Submit an Absentee Ballot

The steps to submit an absentee ballot in 2020 vary by state. Typically, you must first submit a request to your local election office. Depending on the state, you may need to do so online, in person or by phone.

In some cases, you will need to provide a reason along with valid proof to qualify. For overseas voting, for instance, you may need to provide more information about your stay in a foreign country, such as education or employment.

Once you receive confirmation that you qualify, you will receive a form that you must fill out. You must provide personal information, such as:

  • Name
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Voting residence address
  • Current contact information

On the second part of the form, you must not include any identifying information, as this is where you cast your vote for congressional and/or presidential candidates.

It is important that you know the absentee ballot deadline in your state to ensure that you submit your ballot in time. Delivering it too late will prevent you from voting in the upcoming cycle and lose your contribution to the election results.

Note: If you do not receive your state’s absentee ballot form in time, there is a federal write-in form that you can mail to your local election office.