Absentee Voting Laws

Can you mail in your vote? It depends on your state and its laws.

Absentee voting allows those who can't vote in person to cast a ballot by mail or by depositing it into a designated drop box. Those who vote by absentee ballot do so before Election Day. Learn about absentee voting, who is eligible, how to register, and more.

What Is Absentee Voting?

Absentee voting is a method for those who cannot do in-person voting. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Military personnel and their families
  • Overseas voters
  • The disabled
  • Poll workers

Although state laws vary, registered voters interested in absentee voting typically complete an absentee ballot application and submit the ballot request to their local election office. Once approved, the election office will send them a mail-in ballot and return envelope so they can vote.

Voters can mail their ballots or place them in designated drop boxes.

Although the eligibility rules for absentee voting vary from state to state, you typically can vote absentee for the following:

  • General elections
  • Primary elections
  • Early voting

Purpose of Absentee Voting

Absentee voting ensures that people can exercise their voting rights if the following prevents them from going to their polling place:

  • Military duty
  • Foreign service
  • Away on business
  • Ill or disabled

History of Absentee Voting

In the 1980s, people concerned about democracy noticed that U.S. voter turnout rates were significantly lower than in other established democracies. Some states relaxed their voting requirements to encourage more people to vote.

Increasing access to voting by absentee ballot was one strategy. Today, more people vote by absentee ballot. According to the MIT Election Data Science Lab, absentee voting increased from 7.5% in 1992 to 21.1% in 2016.

Ultimately, these numbers show an increase in participation in democracy.

Absentee Voting Eligibility

Since election administration is a state function, absentee voting eligibility varies from state to state. Here are the general voter registration requirements:

  • U.S. citizen
  • 18 or older
  • Eligible to vote in your state (some states have laws preventing felons, for example, from voting)
  • Registered to vote in your state or through the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA)

You can learn more about federal absentee voting requirements through USA.gov.

State Absentee Voting Laws

Election administration is a state function; absentee voting laws differ from state to state.

Mail Voting

The following eight states conduct their elections by mail:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont (general elections only)
  • Washington

In these states, every eligible voter automatically gets a ballot in the mail. Voters who need their ballot mailed to an address different than their home address can apply for an absentee ballot.

No-Excuse Absentee Voting

The following states and the District of Columbia allow no-excuse absentee voting:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In these states, registered voters can request an absentee ballot. They do not need to give a reason for their request.

Requesting an Absentee Ballot

Prospective absentee voters must give an excuse to request an absentee ballot. Examples of valid excuses include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A specific and reasonable expectation that you cannot vote in person on Election Day during the entire 12 hours the polls are open (Indiana)
  • You cannot get to your assigned polling station due to a physical disability (Massachusetts)
  • You are 65 or older (Mississippi)
  • You are an election official at a poll other than your own (Alabama)
  • Your religious tenets forbid secular activity on Election Day (Connecticut)
  • Your business prevents you from coming to the polls (including work caring for an ill or disabled family member) (Delaware)
  • You are in prison but not serving time for a felony (Louisiana)
  • You are a student living outside your home county (Kentucky)

Other states that require an excuse include the following:

  • Arkansas
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Registering for Absentee Voting

If you would like to register for absentee voting, please see the resources below for more information and to apply to receive a ballot.

  • U.S. citizens can apply for an absentee ballot from their state's secretary of state office
  • U.S. citizens serving in the military should consult the Federal Voting Assistance Program website or the Overseas Vote Foundation
  • U.S. citizens living abroad can use the FPCA to apply for an absentee ballot. They can also use the Overseas Vote Foundation to apply for a ballot
  • U.S. citizens born abroad may or may not be eligible to vote by absentee ballot. It will depend upon the laws of the state in which their parents previously lived

Get Legal Help

You should not have difficulty voting absentee as long as you meet the eligibility criteria. If you face any problems with your absentee ballot or with local election officials,

a civil rights lawyer can help. Speak to an experienced civil rights lawyer today.

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