Vote by Mail States and Law: What You Need to Know

Some states are moving to vote by mail, while others are increasing absentee voting options for voters. Is yours? See the comprehensive list of all vote-by-mail states below, and learn whether voting by mail is an option for you.

What Is Voting by Mail?

States usually have ways where citizens can vote without actually going to the polling station. These methods include absentee voting and voting by mail.

Voting by mail allows eligible voters to mail in their ballots if they can't go to the polls to vote on Election Day.

States have the following two systems in place that allow citizens to vote by mail:

1) Automatic Mail-In Ballot

States that follow this system will automatically send a ballot or an application to get a ballot to all registered voters at their mailing addresses identified in their contact information in their voter registration. The number of polling sites varies from state to state. But generally, in states that send a ballot to voters, in-person voting is limited, and some of these elections are all-mail elections. States with all-mail elections generally don’t use provisional ballots.

2) Request Required Mail-In Ballots

Here, eligible voters must initiate the process for receiving the ballots. That means they must request a ballot for the state to send them one. Some states require valid excuses before they send ballots, while others follow no-excuse ballot systems.

Absentee Voting vs. Voting by Mail-In Ballot

Absentee voting is one way that people can vote by mail in the United States. In fact, states often use "vote by mail" and "absentee voting" interchangeably.

Many states allow no-excuse absentee voting, which means a person can request an absentee ballot without needing to provide a reason. Other states require people to have a reason to receive an absentee ballot (such as age, overseas military duty, etc.).

A difference between absentee voting and voting by mail is that in states with automatic mail-in ballots, all citizens receive ballots without needing to request them. In those states, fewer polling places are open on Election Day, and the ballots typically come a few weeks in advance of a primary election or a general election.

If you are voting absentee or by mail, your voted ballot needs to bear a postmark on or before election day and must be returned by the U.S. postal service. If you are voting absentee, you may be able to drop off your voted ballot at the county elections office or in an authorized ballot drop box.

A Comprehensive List of All Vote-By-Mail States

The list below shows which states will mail ballots to all registered voters during the 2020 election, which states allow absentee voting for everyone, and which states require a reason to vote absentee. It includes links you can use to access your state's absentee voting or mail-in-voting registration.

Note that in the following list, no-excuse absentee voting is often called "mail-in voting" by states. The difference is that in absentee voting states, you must request a ballot and can then mail it back to have your vote counted. Many states with absentee voting also allow in-person voting prior to Election Day for people who will not be able to vote on Election Day.


  • Need to show a valid excuse to vote absentee

Fill out an Alabama absentee voting application


  • No-excuse absentee voting/vote by mail

Request an Alaska ballot by mail


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a ballot-by-mail through Arizona's voter portal


  • Need to show a valid excuse to vote absentee

Request an Arkansas absentee ballot here


  • Typically, no-excuse absentee voting




District of Columbia


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Florida vote-by-mail ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Georgia absentee ballot



  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Idaho absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Illinois absentee ballot



  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Iowa absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Fill out an application for an advance ballot by mail in Kansas




  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Maine absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Maryland absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Massachusetts absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Download the Michigan absentee ballot application


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Minnesota absentee ballot




  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Montana absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Complete a Nebraska early voting application


  • Typically, no-excuse absentee voting

Request a Nevada absentee ballot

New Hampshire

  • Need to show a valid excuse to vote absentee

New Jersey

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Access your absentee voting application in your New Jersey county

New Mexico

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Fill out a New Mexico absentee voter application

New York

  • Need to show a valid excuse to vote absentee

Get information about voting absentee in New York

North Carolina

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a North Carolina absentee ballot

North Dakota

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Apply for an absentee ballot in North Dakota


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Apply to "vote by mail" in Ohio


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Oklahoma absentee ballot



  • No-excuse absentee voting

Apply for an absentee ballot in Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Apply for a Rhode Island absentee ballot

South Carolina

South Dakota

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Download or request a South Dakota absentee ballot





  • No-excuse absentee voting.

Request a Vermont absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Apply for absentee voting in Virginia


West Virginia


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Wisconsin absentee ballot


  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Wyoming absentee ballot

*For the most up-to-date information, visit your state's Secretary of State's website.

Voting by Mail During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted all ways of life, including how states administer elections. Many states either postponed their primary or switched entirely to voting by mail to prevent the spread of COVID-19. States also took measures to allow citizens to vote absentee and by mail in the general election. Some states have retained their COVID-19 measures and allow liberal absentee voting and voting by mail.

Requirements to Vote by Mail

The specific requirements to vote by mail depend on the state and the system it follows. Accordingly, the requirements to vote by mail are as follows:

Automatic mail-in ballots: If you live in a state where this system is followed, being eligible to vote is the only thing you need to receive a ballot or an application to get a ballot from your state.

Request mail-in ballots (no excuse required): If your state follows this system, you must be eligible to vote and take steps to request a ballot be mailed to you.

Request mail-in ballots (excuse required): In addition to the requirements listed above, some states require you to have a valid excuse before they allow you to mail in your ballot. These excuses generally include:

  • Being outside the country at the time of voting

  • Being above a certain age or disabled

  • Being incarcerated

  • Religious reasons

  • Working on Election Day

Early Voting by Mail-in Ballot

Many states allow people to vote by mail if they will not be able to go to the polls on Election Day, such as because they are overseas voters. If you would like to vote early but do not want to submit a mail-in ballot, there are government offices where you can go to fill out your ballot. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a helpful guide that shows when early voting begins and ends

Are Mail-In Ballots Counted? Is There Fraud?

There has been a lot of discussion about whether mail-in ballots are a potential source of fraud. 

In states where voting is primarily conducted by mail — and has been for years — little fraud has been found. But ballots have been rejected, often because someone forgot to sign their ballot or their signature on the ballot did not match their signature on their voting file. 

There is also some concern about whether the post office can handle the influx of mail. Will ballots make it to voters, and then election offices, on time? The United States Postmaster General has committed to ensuring all ballots will arrive on time. That leaves it up to voters to ensure they get their ballots in the mail on time. 

How Do You Make Sure Your Mail-In Vote Counts?

  1. Don't delay in requesting your ballot from your Secretary of State's website

  2. Read all ballot instructions and note whether you need a witness and/or a notary 

  3. Fill in all ovals completely (no checkmarks)

  4. If your signature has changed recently, change your signature on your voting file (usually by re-registering) 

  5. Sign your ballot

  6. Mail your ballot in ASAP using the return envelope, at least two weeks before Election Day

  7. Then sit back and await the election results

If your ballot is rejected, you will get a notification that you need to fix it. Respond immediately to that notification to ensure your vote is counted.

Federal Mail-In Voting Laws

Currently, the states determine who can vote by mail/vote absentee in statewide and federal elections. Federally, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act requires states to allow members of the military and their spouses to vote absentee. The Act also covers U.S. citizens who live overseas.

If You Have Voting Questions, Consult a Lawyer

Because states’ laws vary, voting questions can get complicated. If you have questions about whether election officials at your board of elections are going to accept your absentee or regular ballot, consider speaking to an experienced civil rights attorney.

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