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Absentee and Early Voting

Absentee and Early Voting

10/21/2014

Most states have a method for any eligible voter to cast a ballot before Election Day, either during the early voting period or by requesting an absentee ballot. In 14 states, early voting is not available and an excuse is required to request an absentee ballot. 

States offer three ways for voters to cast a ballot before Election Day:

  1. Early Voting: In 33 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may cast a ballot in person during a designated period prior to Election Day. No excuse or justification is required.
  2. Absentee Voting: All states will mail an absentee ballot to certain voters who request one. The voter may return the ballot by mail or in person. In 20 states, an excuse is required, while 27 states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote absentee without offering an excuse. Some states offer a permanent absentee ballot list: once a voter asks to be added to the list, s/he will automatically receive an absentee ballot for all future elections.
  3. Mail Voting: A ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter (no request or application is necessary), and the state does not use traditional precinct poll sites that offer in-person voting on Election Day. Three states use mail voting.

 

Scroll over the map below for state-by state details.

         
No-excuse absentee voting Early voting Early voting AND no-excuse absentee voting All-mail voting No early voting: excuse required for absentee
 

Overview

Minnesota will become the 27th state to offer no-excuse absentee voting and Colorado will become the third state to offer all-mail voting for all elections, beginning in 2014. In 2014, Massachusetts passed legislation to permit early voting, to be implemented in 2016. 

The table below details the types of pre-election day voting that are available in each state. Information on the details of each category may be found below the table.

Pre-Election Day Voting

State

In-Person

By Mail

 

Early Voting

No-Excuse Absentee

Absentee; Excuse Required

All-Mail Voting

Permanent Absentee Status

Alabama

 

 

 

 

Alaska

 

(a)

 

Arizona

 

(a)

Arkansas

 

(a)

 

California

 

(a)

Colorado

 

 

 

 

Connecticut

 

 

 

 

Delaware

 

 

 

 

D.C.

 

 

Florida

 

(a)

 

Georgia

 

 

 

Hawaii

 

(a)

Idaho

(b)

 

(a)

 

Illinois

 

 

 

Indiana

(b)

 

 

 

Iowa

(b)

 

 

 

Kansas

 

(a)

 

Kentucky

 

 

 

 

Louisiana

 

 

 

Maine

(b)

 

 

 

Maryland

 

(a)

 

Massachusetts

 

 

 

 

Michigan

 

 

 

 

Minnesota

(b)

 

(a)

Mississippi

 

 

 

 

Missouri

 

 

(a)

 

Montana

(b)

 

(a)

Nebraska

 

(a)

 

Nevada

 

(a)

 

New Hampshire

 

 

 

 

New Jersey

(b)

 

(a)

New Mexico

 

(a)

 

New York

 

 

 

 

North Carolina

 

 

 

North Dakota

 

(a)

 

Ohio

(b)

 

 

 

Oklahoma

(b)

 

 

 

Oregon

 

 

 

 

Pennsylvania

 

 

 

 

Rhode Island

 

 

 

 

South Carolina

 

 

 

 

South Dakota

(b)

 

 

 

Tennessee

 

 

 

Texas

 

 

 

Utah

 

 

Vermont

(b)

 

 

 

Virginia

 

 

 

 

Washington

 

 

 

 

West Virginia

 

 

 

Wisconsin

(b)

 

 

 

Wyoming

(b)

 

 

 

TOTAL

33 states + DC

27 states + DC

20 states

3 states

7 states + DC

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, March 2014

(a)    Certain elections may be held entirely by mail. The circumstances under which all-mail elections are permitted vary from state to state.

(b)   Although these states do not have Early Voting in the traditional sense, within a certain period of time before an election they do allow a voter to apply in person for an absentee ballot (without an excuse) and cast that ballot in one trip to an election official’s office. This is often known as "in-person absentee" voting.


Early Voting

Two-thirds of the states--33, plus the District of Columbia--offer some sort of early voting.  Early voting allows voters to visit an election official’s office or, in some states, other satellite voting locations, and cast a vote in person without offering an excuse for why the voter is unable to vote on election day.  Some states also allow voters to receive, fill out and cast their absentee ballot in person at the elections office or at a satellite location rather than returning it through through the mail. This is often reffered to as in-person absentee voting. Satellite voting locations vary by state, and may include other county and state offices (besides the election official’s office), grocery stores, shopping malls, schools, libraries, and other locations. 

The time period for early voting varies from state to state:

  • The date on which early voting begins may be as early as 45 days before the election, or as late as the Friday before the election. The average starting time for early voting across all 33 states is 22 days before the election.
  • Early voting typically ends just a few days before Election Day:  seven days before the election in two states, on the Thursday before the election in one state, the Friday before in seven states, the Saturday before in seven states, and the Monday before Election Day in 13 states.
  • Early voting periods range in length from four days to 45 days; the average across all 33 states is 19 days.
  • At least 12 of the 33 early voting states require that early vote centers be open on at least one Saturday or Sunday during the early voting period. Others give county or local officials the authority to determine the hours for early voting.

No-Excuse Absentee Voting

Absentee voting is conducted by mail-in paper ballot prior to the day of the election. States typically require that a voter fill out an application to receive an absentee ballot. Many states help facilitate this process by making absentee ballot applications available online for voters to print and send, and five states (Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Utah) permit a voter to submit an application entirely online. Arizona has some counties that have online absentee ballot applications, and in Detroit, Michigan voters can request an absentee ballot through a smartphone app.

While all states offer some version of absentee voting, there is quite a lot of variation in states’ procedures. For instance, some states offer "no-excuse" absentee voting, allowing any registered voter to request an absentee without requiring that the voter state a reason for his/her desire to vote absentee. Some states also allow a time frame before the election for voters to appear at the elections office or other designated location in person to request, fill out and cast an absentee ballot in on stop. Still other states permit voters to vote absentee only under a limited set of circumstances.

The following 27 states and D.C. offer "no-excuse" absentee voting:

No-Excuse Absentee Voting

Alaska

Kansas 

North Dakota

Arizona

Maine

Ohio

California

Maryland

Oklahoma

District of Columbia

Minnesota

South Dakota

Florida

Montana

Utah

Georgia

Nebraska

Vermont

Hawaii

Nevada

Wisconsin

Idaho

New Jersey

Wyoming

Illinois

New Mexico

 

Iowa North Carolina  

Source:  National Conference of State Legislatures, January 2014

Permanent Absentee Voting

Some states permit voters to join a permanent absentee voting list. Once a voter opts in, s/he will receive an absentee ballot automatically for all future elections. The states that offer permanent absentee voting to any voter are:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • Utah

At least seven states offer permanent absentee status to a limited number of voters who meet certain criteria:

  • Alaska - voters who reside in a remote area where distance, terrain, or other natural conditions deny the voter reasonable access to the polling place
  • Delaware - military and overseas voters, and their spouses and dependents; voters who are ill or physically disabled; voters who are otherwise authorized by federal law to vote by absentee ballot
  • Kansas - voters with a permanent disability or an illness diagnosed as permanent
  • Massachusetts - permanently disabled voters
  • Minnesota - voters with a permanent illness or disability
  • Missouri - permanently disabled voters
  • West Virginia - voters who are permanently and totally disabled and unable to vote at the polls

Mail Voting

Three states -- Oregon, Washington and Colorado -- conduct all elections by mail.  A ballot is automatically mailed to every registered voter in advance of Election Day, and traditional in-person voting precincts are not available. Learn more about each state's vote-by-mail program: Oregon, Washington, Colorado. 

Nineteen other states allow certain elections to be held by mail. More information can be found on NCSL's All-Mail Elections (aka Vote-By-Mail) webpage.

Early and Absentee Voting in Your State

Are you looking for information on how to vote early or by absentee ballot in an upcoming election?  While NCSL is not involved in holding elections and cannot provide information or advice on how, when or where to vote in your state, we are pleased to provide  this link to a page which will direct you to the answers you need regarding your state's laws:  Can I Vote?

Military Voters

All states permit members of the military who are stationed overseas, their dependents, and other U.S. citizens living abroad to vote by absentee ballot.  For more information, please visit the Overseas Vote Foundation.

Additional Resources

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