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 states' vote-by-mail rules below and learn whether voting by mail is an option for you.

Voters have many options to vote in national and local elections. While many people opt to vote in person, many others vote by mail.

What Is Voting by Mail?

Each state has methods allowing citizens to vote without 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-person voting is limited in states that send a ballot to voters; some are all-mail elections. States with all-mail elections typically don't use provisional ballots.
  2. Request Required Mail-In Ballots — Here, eligible voters must start the process of receiving the ballots. That means they must request a ballot for the state to send them one. Some states need 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 people can vote by mail in the United States. States 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 providing 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 ballot needs to bear a postmark on or before election day, and you must return it via the U.S. postal service. If you are voting absentee, some states allow you 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 elections, which allow absentee voting for everyone, and which states require a reason to vote absentee. It includes links 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 before Election Day for people who cannot vote on Election Day.

Alabama

  • Need to show a valid excuse to vote absentee

Fill out an Alabama absentee voting application

Alaska

  • No-excuse absentee voting/vote by mail

Request an Alaska ballot by mail

Arizona

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a ballot by mail through Arizona's voter portal

Arkansas

  • Need to show a valid excuse to vote absentee

Request an Arkansas absentee ballot

California

  • Any registered voter may vote by mail

Colorado

  • Every registered voter gets a mail ballot

Connecticut

Delaware

  • Typically, citizens need a valid excuse to vote absentee in Delaware

District of Columbia

  • Typically, no-excuse absentee voting

Florida

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Florida vote-by-mail ballot

Georgia

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Georgia absentee ballot

Hawaii

Idaho

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Idaho absentee ballot

Illinois

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Illinois absentee ballot

Indiana

Iowa

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Iowa absentee ballot

Kansas

  • No-excuse absentee voting

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

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Maine absentee ballot

Maryland

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Maryland absentee ballot

Massachusetts

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Massachusetts absentee ballot

Michigan

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Download the Michigan absentee ballot application

Minnesota

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Minnesota absentee ballot

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Montana absentee ballot

Nebraska

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Complete a Nebraska early voting application

Nevada

  • Typically, no-excuse absentee voting

Request a Nevada absentee ballot

New Hampshire

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

Ohio

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an absentee ballot in Ohio

Oklahoma

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request an Oklahoma absentee ballot

Oregon

Pennsylvania

  • 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

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

  • No-excuse absentee voting.

Request a Vermont absentee ballot

Virginia

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Apply for absentee voting in Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

  • No-excuse absentee voting

Request a Wisconsin absentee ballot

Wyoming

  • 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. Or, consult the National Association of Secretaries of State 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 primaries 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, allowing 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 criteria for voting by mail are as follows:

Automatic mail-in ballots: If you live in a state that uses automatic mail-in ballots, your eligibility to vote is all you need to get a ballot or an application to get a ballot from your state.

Request mail-in ballots (no excuse required): In these states, you must take steps beyond eligibility to vote to request a ballot.

Request mail-in ballots (excuse required): Besides the requirements mentioned above, some states need a valid reason 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 can't go to the polls on Election Day, such as because they are overseas voters. If you would like to vote early but want to avoid submitting 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.

There is little fraud in states where voting is primarily conducted by mail for years. But ballots have gotten rejected, often because someone forgot to sign their ballot or their signature did not match the 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 arrive on time. That leaves it up to voters to ensure they get their ballots on time.

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 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

The state will notify you if it rejects your ballot. Respond immediately to that notification to ensure your vote counts.

Federal Mail-In Voting Laws

Each state determines 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 will accept your absentee or regular ballot, consider speaking to an experienced civil rights attorney.

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