Everything You Need to Know About Voting by Mail

When you think about voting, you may think about standing in line at your neighborhood polling place with your friends and neighbors, waiting your turn to cast a vote you feel proud of — one that will result in laws and policies that support your finances and your values.

But that’s not the only way to vote. And for many people, it’s certainly not the most convenient or safe way to vote.

Absentee voting, or voting by mail, has become much more mainstream lately. And whether you vote in person or by mail, it’s still public record that you took the time to cast a vote and participate in democracy.

But like everything else voting-related, the rules for absentee voting vary state by state.

Here are four things you need to know about absentee voting:

1. Your state’s absentee ballot rules

Some states allow anyone to vote absentee and do not require a reason. Other states require specific reasons for requesting an absentee ballot — for instance, that you will be absent from the county on election day or are required to work a shift of 10 hours or more that conflicts with polling hours.

However, in light of COVID-19, many of the states that are typically strict about absentee voting are allowing absentee ballots to anyone who requests one. And some states are automatically mailing absentee ballots to every single registered voter.

Check my state’s absentee ballot rules

If you’re in a state where you’ll automatically get a ballot in the mail, make sure your mailing address is correct on your voter registration.

Check my voter registration status

2. How to request an absentee ballot

Before you request a ballot, check your state’s absentee ballot application deadline.

Check my state’s absentee ballot application deadline

Vote.org has a wonderful online resource for requesting an absentee ballot in any state.

Request an absentee ballot

Alternatively, you can also contact your local election office for an application, which you can mail, fax, or email back.

3. Your state’s completed absentee ballot deadlines

To count in the election, completed absentee ballots must be received by your state’s deadline. Some states count when the ballot is postmarked, and others count when it is received.

For instance, in Texas, your voted absentee ballot must be postmarked one day before Election Day and received by the day after Election Day. In California it must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than 17 days after. And in Florida, it doesn’t matter when you send it, but your ballot must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Check my state’s absentee ballot deadlines

4. How to return your absentee ballot

Most people return their voted absentee ballot by mail. But you can also hand-deliver your ballot to a designated location or drop box. Contact your local election office to find out where you can return your absentee ballot.

Next step: figure out your voting plan! People with an explicit plan for how they’ll get to the polling place, and at what time, are typically much more successful in voting.

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