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How do absentee ballots work?

Mailing an absentee ballot is one of the many ways to vote if you are unable to visit the polls in person on Election Day 2020. Absentee ballots allow eligible citizens to vote form almost anywhere and have their votes count in upcoming elections.

Typically, military members who are stationed outside of their home states and citizens living overseas participate in absentee voting. However, other citizens also may qualify for this type of voting depending on their state and circumstances.

Early Voting vs. Absentee Voting

Many voters are not aware of the difference between early voting and absentee voting. Some people may even talk about these terms like they mean the same thing. However, there are big differences between them.

First, let’s talk about early voting.

When you vote early, you still visit a polling place and cast a ballot in person, but you do so before Election Day. Most states have an early voting period, but the period varies by state. Early voting usually takes place up to 45 days before Election Day. In this case, voters are not required to provide a reason for voting early.

Now, on to absentee voting.

This type of voting usually means sending a vote-by-mail ballot before Election Day. While it is a kind of early voting, some states will ask you for a valid excuse, such as a disability, lack of transportation and work schedules.

Who qualifies for an absentee ballot?

Currently, 21 states and U.S. territories ask voters to give a valid excuse for absentee voting. However, many others do not.

In Arizona, for instance, any registered voter has the option of submitting a mail-in ballot. However, in states like New York, Louisiana and Delaware, voters must meet specific requirements to qualify.

Some valid excuses to qualify for an absentee ballot include:

  • Temporarily living outside the United States.
  • Being on active duty as a military service member.
  • Having a physical disability that makes it difficult or impossible to get to a polling place.
  • Election Day falling on a religious holiday that prohibits such activities.
  • Not having transportation to get to the polls.

Voters who are older than a certain age or have a disability may also be able to vote by mail.

The first step in seeing if you qualify for an absentee ballot is learning about the election laws in your state.

Some states allow eligible voters to join a permanent absentee ballot list. Currently, only Arizona, California, the District of Columbia (D.C.), Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey and Utah offer this option.

How to Submit an Absentee Ballot

The steps to submit an absentee ballot in 2020 depend on your state. Typically, you need to ask for an absentee ballot at your local election office. Depending on the state, you may need to do so online, in person or by phone.

In some cases, you will need to provide a reason for wanting to vote by mail, along with proof. For overseas voting, for instance, you may need to provide more information about your stay in a foreign country, such as education or employment.

Once you receive confirmation that you can vote by mail, you will receive a form that you must fill out. You must provide personal information, such as:

  • Name
  • Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Voting residence address
  • Current contact information

Make sure you look up the absentee ballot deadline in your state so that you submit your ballot in time. Sending it too late will keep you from voting in the upcoming election.

Note: If you do not receive your state’s absentee ballot form in time, there is a federal write-in form that you can mail to your local election office.