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With voters standing close to each other in line and polling workers handling thousands of ballots, in-person voting can be a potential recipe for community transmission of COVID-19. Thus, states are taking different measures to ensure Americans can safely cast a vote during the pandemic. By now, most states have either allowed absentee voting or postponed their primaries.
If you are voting absentee, that means you can vote early or by mail. Although all states have some kind of absentee voting in place, specific rules on who qualifies vary. Make sure to research the laws that apply in your state to know if you are eligible.
All states, in some form, allow voters to vote absentee. Thirty-four states and District of Colombia either conduct their elections primarily through the mail, or they offer absentee voting without requiring voters to provide any type of excuse.
The remaining sixteen states, however, allow you to vote absentee only if you can show valid reasons why you can't vote in person.
States differ on what they would consider as a valid excuse to allow voters to vote absentee. However, some commonly accepted excuses include:
Election officials in several states permitted voters to vote absentee in the primaries to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. For example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that allows "temporary illness" to include “the potential for the contraction of the COVID-19 virus" for the state's primary election. Other states that have followed suit include Delaware, Indiana, and Alabama.
A few states have also extended this rule to apply to the general elections in November. New Hampshire, for instance, issued a memo allowing voters to vote absentee if they fear COVID-19 in the general election. It specifically states:
“If a person is unable to vote in person in the general election because of illness from COVID-19 or who fears that voting in person may expose himself/herself or others to COVID-19 will be deemed to come within the definition of “disability" for purposes of obtaining an absentee ballot."
Michigan also mailed applications to vote by mail to all registered voters to give them the option to vote absentee for the August primary and the November general election.
California became the first state to switch to all-mail voting for the November general election over fears of the health risks of in-person voting.
Although absentee voting is one of the best ways to ensure voters' safety as they exercise their civic duty, it also has its drawbacks. Some challenges to shifting entirely to absentee voting may include:
The general election is approaching, and COVID-19 still remains rampant in the community, with cases dangerously increasing over time. State officials are considering multiple mitigation strategies that would ensure safe elections while controlling the spread of the virus.
Delaying or even canceling the election is highly unlikely as it would likely require action by Congress and raise constitutional issues. The next best thing states have to consider may be to push for absentee voting.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.