Elections are administered by states. As such, every state sets its own rules for absentee voting. Always check with your state’s election website for updates and information about rules and deadlines.

If you encounter any problems voting, call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-687-8683

Does every state allow vote-by-mail?

Yes! Every state has some form of vote-by-mail. But the process varies from state to state.

There are five All-Mail states (Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii) where every election is conducted using mail-in ballots only. 

Every other state uses absentee voting. With absentee voting, you apply in advance to have a ballot mailed to you. Some states restrict who can vote absentee. However, several of these states have eased or waived previous restrictions because of COVID-19.

Are ballots mailed out automatically in my state?

In the five All-Mail states (WA, OR, UT, CO, HI) all registered voters automatically receive a ballot for every election. In addition this year, because of COVID-19, California will also send ballots to its registered voters.

In every other state, you must apply for an absentee ballot.

NOTE: A few states will be sending out absentee ballot applications this year because of the pandemic. But the application must still be completed and returned in order to receive an actual ballot.

Find out how absentee voting works in your state.

What is an absentee ballot application? How do I find it and submit it?

The vast majority of states require you to apply for an absentee ballot. Every state has different rules about when and where to submit your completed application. Some can be done online; others need to be mailed via USPS or physically dropped off to your county clerk. You can find all the details on your state's election website.

What does ‘no excuse’ or ‘excuse’ mean with regard to absentee voting?

In a ‘no excuse’ state any registered voter can request a ballot without providing a reason. In an ‘excuse state,’ only voters who meet certain criteria defined by the state can apply for an absentee ballot. Because of COVID-19, however, many ‘excuse states’ have eased or waived previous restrictions.

My ‘excuse’ state waived restrictions for the primary. Does that mean it will for the general election?

Not necessarily. Check in early and often with your state's election website to stay informed about the latest COVID-19-related rules and deadline changes. The ever-changing nature of the pandemic has forced many states to adjust or waive previous rules and restrictions.

I like to vote in person. I don’t want to vote absentee. Why do I need to do this?

COVID-19 has disrupted all of our lives, and no one knows what life will look like on November 3rd.  Voting-by-mail, or absentee, allows you to exercise your right to vote without risking your health. It also flattens the election day curve by shortening the lines at the polls and putting fewer demands on poll workers and polling places.

But absentee voting rules vary from state to state. Check with your state election website to familiarize yourself with the locations and deadlines for submitting your completed absentee ballot. 

My state’s elections page is really confusing and has out of date/contradictory information.

Yes, it can be confusing. If your state’s election page hasn’t been updated, keep checking back. Make a plan to look at it again and put that plan on your calendar. You can always call your state elections office for more information. Find the phone number for your state’s elections office on the Contact Us page of the elections office website.

After I fill out and submit an application for an absentee ballot, will I get my ballot right away?

Not necessarily. Every state has a different timeline for when they mail out absentee ballots. In general, it's 3-6 weeks before election day. Some states have this 'ballot drop' information readily available on their websites, some don’t. Mark the anticipated date of arrival on your calendar and follow up immediately if you do not receive it. 

If I voted absentee in the primary, do I automatically get an absentee ballot for the general?

Not necessarily. Every state has different rules and regulations around absentee voting. As a general rule of thumb, if you live in a state that is friendly to the idea of easy access to voting, your state will make this process uncomplicated and user-friendly. If you live in an 'excuse state', you may find the process to be generally more difficult. Always check with your state's election website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

I’m hearing about lots of problems in primaries. What if I submit my absentee ballot application but my ballot never comes?

This could happen. Be prepared for this and realize that you may need to vote in person. Familiarize yourself with your polling place and early voting dates if your state offers them. If you’re experiencing problems, call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-687-8683.

How do I make sure my ballot doesn’t get rejected?

CHECK, DOUBLE CHECK and then CHECK AGAIN your absentee voting rules, instructions and deadlines. The most common reasons for rejecting ballots are missed deadlines and signature issues. Some states require that ballots be postmarked by election day and others must be received. Additionally, some states require voter ID or witness signatures with absentee voting.

This year, more and more states are offering ballot-tracking, so you confirm that your ballot arrived and was accepted. Make a point of completing and returning your completed ballot as soon as you receive it.

Bummer. My state doesn’t have vote by mail. I guess this doesn’t apply to me.

Every state has some form of vote-by-mail, but in 'excuse states' you may not meet the criteria for absentee voting. If you can't vote absentee, be sure you're registered to vote and know your polling places. Try to take advantage of early voting if your state offers it.

What is the deadline for returning an absentee ballot?

Deadlines vary from state to state. But missing the deadline is the number one reason absentee ballots are rejected. Know your state's deadline, and do not wait until the last minute to send it in. Anticipate delays and plan accordingly.

Do absentee ballots take longer to count?

Yes. Some state laws prohibit officials from starting to count absentee or early ballots until election day, which means we may not know the results on election night. Because of the anticipated number of absentee ballots this year, voters should realign their expectations about when results will be known.