By Amanda Zoch
“The U.S. is one of the few countries where no-excuse absentee voting is even a thing!”
That was the big takeaway after we talked absentee voting with the Carter Center’s Avery Davis-Roberts.
From a global perspective, absentee voting is unusual, Davis-Roberts notes. Only about 25% of countries offer it, according to comparative elections data from the ACE project. But even then, that voting option doesn’t work the way it does in the U.S. where more and more voters can vote mail/absentee ballots without an excuse.
Outside the U.S., absentee voting is mostly reserved for people with clear excuses. They’re overseas, in the military or out of their home jurisdiction—all the reasons the U.S. developed absentee balloting in the first place during and after the Civil War.
In comparison to the rest of the world, early voting and being able to vote in any precinct or jurisdiction are also rare. In many cases, voters in other countries have just one day to vote. In some places—such as India and Sudan—elections take place on a rolling schedule over many weeks as election officials move the voting operation from region to region. Although the election itself lasts for up to eight weeks, each individual’s voting period is still brief—a voter must cast their ballot while the operation is in town or forfeit their democratic right.
In sum, the U.S. is simply unusual. And this November, our country will both face unique challenges and provide unique voting options during the 2020 general election.
The pandemic has shaken every country, but as Davis-Roberts adds, in most countries “there aren’t a lot of options for people to vote aside from wearing a mask and showing up.”
Amanda Zoch is a policy specialist in NCSL's Elections & Redistricting Program.