Absentee Ballot Rules Explained

February 11, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The virtue of absentee ballots has no doubt been argued everywhere from Shelly’s Back Room in Washington, D.C., where the give-and-take was accompanied by cigars and whiskey, to the crowded dining room of the Red Arrow 24 Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire, where the combatants lingered over chicken tenders and fries.

Wherever the conversation has taken place, it has boiled down to two essential assertions:

That by removing barriers to voting, absentee ballots allow more people to vote in the manner most convenient for them.

Or, that there’s no empirical proof this has actually happened, and that by opening the door to absenteeism, you’re only increasing the odds of a vote being discounted due to voter error or other compromising behavior.  

Despite the controversies that consume armchair experts, every state in the union will mail an absentee ballot to any registered voter who requests one.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia allow any qualified voter to cast an absentee ballot without offering an excuse, giving them the option of returning their vote by mail or in person.

In 17 states, an excuse is required before a voter becomes eligible to use an absentee ballot.

Some states even maintain a permanent absentee ballot list, meaning once a voters asks to be added to the list, he or she will automatically receive an absentee ballot prior to all future elections.

Of course, there are many variations in how each state carries out absentee balloting. To find out how the process is handled in your state, simply click on the state links below.

No Excuses

The following are the 33 states that offer “no excuse” absentee voting or voting by mail:

Alaska, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Of the states that fall under this category, five states, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, automatically send mail-in ballots to all eligible voters.

Additionally, one, Rhode Island, continues to send out absentee voter materials that include a list of excuses, though it also informs them that “no specific reason is necessary.”

Excuses Required

Commonly accepted reasons for casting an absentee ballot include a voter’s absence from his or her home county on Election Day; illness or physical disability; a voter’s prolonged absence from his or her home county; a voter being required to work during polling hours; religious observance;  and incarceration (non-felony).

The following 17 states require a citizen to provide a valid excuse to vote absentee:

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Permanent Absentee Voting

Seven states and the District of Columbia permit any voter to join a permanent absentee ballot list and will mail that voter an absentee ballot for each election.

The states are Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey and Utah.

Also of note: Both Hawaii and Utah will hold all-mail ballot elections in 2020.

Absentee ballot deadlines for all states can be found here.

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