Qualifying for an Absentee Ballot
The concept of voting “absentee” first came about during the Civil War as a way for soldiers to cast ballots back in their home states. The idea of allowing military voters to cast a ballot “in absentia” is still one of the driving factors for states allowing absentee ballots. All states, by federal law, are required to send absentee/mail ballots to military and overseas voters for federal elections (see the 1986 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)).
Aside from military and overseas voters, 15 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands only permit certain voters to request an absentee/mail ballot when they have an “excuse” for not being able to vote at the polls on Election Day. More details on these states can be found on Table 2: Excuses to Vote Absentee. Note that many states that require an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot do provide early voting opportunities for voters to cast a ballot in-person before Election Day.
Thirty-five states and Washington, D.C., have “no-excuse absentee” voting, which means any voter can request an absentee/mail ballot without providing an excuse, and eight mail all voters a ballot.
Which States Do Not Require an Excuse To Vote Absentee or By Mail?
The following 35 states and Washington, D.C., offer "no-excuse" absentee/mail voting:
- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado*, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii*, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon*, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island**, South Dakota, Utah*, Vermont, Virginia, Washington*, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
*These states send mail ballots to all eligible voters. Voters don’t need to request a mailed ballot but automatically receive one. See the section on all-mail elections below.
**Rhode Island lists several excuses to vote absentee, including one that states, “No specific reason necessary.” Since any Rhode Islander can request an absentee/mail ballot, NCSL has categorized it as no excuse required.
For more details, visit Table 1: States with No-Excuse Absentee Voting.
What Are the Excuses To Vote Absentee in States That Require an Excuse?
All states permit voters who will be away from their home county to vote by absentee/mail ballot, as well as voters with an illness or disability who know ahead of time that they won’t be able to make it to the polls. It is also common to provide this option for older voters.
Many states also permit voters to request an absentee/mail ballot in case of an emergency, such as an unforeseen illness, confinement to a medical facility or an accident resulting in injury.
Beyond that, there are a variety of acceptable excuses in states, such as working during poll hours, serving as a poll worker or on a jury. These excuses are summarized in Table 2: Excuses to Vote Absentee.
Who Qualifies for Permanent Absentee Ballot Status?
Some states permit voters to join a permanent absentee/mail ballot voting list. Voters who request to be on this list will automatically receive an absentee/mail ballot for each election. This option may be offered to all voters, or to a limited number of voters based on certain criteria described below.
A permanent absentee list is sometimes known as a “single sign-up” option since a voter needs to sign up only once to receive an absentee/mail ballot for all future elections.
Five states plus D.C. permit any voter to join a permanent absentee/single sign-up list and will mail that voter an absentee/mail ballot for each election:
- Arizona, District of Columbia, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey and Virginia.
Eleven states permit voters with permanent disabilities to use a “single sign-up” option. In some cases, a note from a physician or other indication of a permanent disability may be required. Once on the list, the state sends these voters absentee/mail ballots:
- Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine (effective Nov. 1, 2023), Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Louisiana, Maine (effective Nov. 1, 2023) and Wisconsin also make this option available to senior voters.
An additional six states automatically send absentee/mail ballot applications to voters on a permanent/single sign-up list. This differs from the category above since voters must return the application before receiving an absentee/mail ballot:
- Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania permit any voter to join a permanent list to receive absentee/mail ballot applications for each election. Voters on this list in Michigan and Minnesota receive applications before each election; voters in Pennsylvania receive applications at the beginning of the year and, upon submittal, the voter will receive an absentee/mail ballot for all elections that year.
- Massachusetts and Missouri send permanently disabled voters absentee/mail ballot applications each election.
- Alaska permits the election supervisor to designate a person as a permanent absentee voter and mail that voter an absentee/mail ballot application if the voter lives in a remote area, is a resident of a long-term care facility or is disabled.
In five states without permanent absentee lists, a voter’s absentee/mail ballot request lasts for more than one election.
- In Florida, a request for an absentee/mail ballot remains in effect for all elections through the two-year election cycle (Fla. Stat. §101.62).
- In Massachusetts (M.G.L.A. 54 § 25B), North Dakota (N.D. Cent. Code. §16.1-07-05(1)), Oklahoma (AC 230:30-5-13) and South Dakota (S.D. Codified Laws Ann. §12-19-2) a request for an absentee/mail ballot remains in effect through the calendar year.
Find more information on Table 3: States with Permanent Absentee Voting Lists.
How and When Is a Voter Removed From a Permanent Absentee Ballot List?
Once voters opt onto a permanent absentee/mail ballot list, they are automatically mailed a ballot for subsequent elections.
Voters on a permanent list can be removed for a variety of reasons, such as inactivity for a set number of election cycles, death, loss of voting rights, return of an absentee/mail ballot or other election mail as undeliverable or upon the voter’s request. Visit Table 4: State Laws on Removing Voters From Permanent Absentee Lists for more details.
Requesting an Absentee Ballot
Most states, except for those that conduct all-mail elections, require voters to submit an application to obtain an absentee/mail ballot. The ways in which voters may request a ballot vary, as do the deadlines for submitting the application to the local election official. Some states also regulate who can distribute or collect applications to receive an absentee/mail ballot.
Once the application is received, states have a process for verifying that the application did indeed come from the intended voter; only after verification are ballots mailed to that voter. The timelines for delivering blank ballots to voters vary, with some states beginning the process 45 days (or more) before an election, and others delivering blank ballots within a month before the election.
Note: This section does not apply to the eight states that send ballots to all eligible voters because an application is not required: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont (general elections only) and Washington.
How Can Voters Request an Absentee Ballot?
How voters may submit absentee/mail ballot applications varies by state. All states will permit a voter to submit an application by mail (usually via an official application form, which may be available online for download) or in person at a local election official’s office. Many states also allow applications by email (usually with a scanned application). In general, most states require the request to be in writing. Some states offer additional options, such as online portals or requests by phone, as well.
At least nineteen states have a statewide online portal that permits voters to request an absentee/mail ballot:
- Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Some of these states used legislation to create this option and others did not. For more details, see Table 6: States with Online Absentee Ballot Application Portals.
At least six states also accept phone requests: Arizona, Florida, Maine, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming.
Can Third-Party Individuals or Groups Distribute Absentee Ballot Applications and Collect Complete Applications?
As part of get-out-the-vote efforts or civic engagement programs, some organizations assist voters in requesting and returning absentee/mail ballot applications. Some states place restrictions on these activities by prohibiting third-party groups from distributing or collecting absentee/mail ballot applications, or designate deadlines or turnaround times for groups that do this work. These laws often require third-party groups to submit completed applications in a timely manner.
Eighteen states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., place no restrictions, or do not specify restrictions, on third- party groups distributing or collecting completed absentee/mail ballot applications:
- Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Seven states permit third-party groups to distribute and/or collect completed absentee/mail ballot applications, but specify deadlines or turnaround times:
- Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and New Mexico.
Seventeen states restrict or prohibit third-party individuals or groups from distributing or collecting absentee/mail ballot applications:
- Alabama (no restriction on distribution), Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
The remaining eight states conduct all-mail elections.
See Table 5: Applying for an Absentee Ballot, Including Third-Party Registration Drives for more details on each state’s absentee/mail ballot application distribution and collection laws.
What Are the Deadlines for Submitting an Absentee Ballot Application?
To have enough time to receive an absentee/mail ballot application, verify the information and send the ballot out, election officials usually need to receive applications a week or more before the election. Some states have statutory deadlines for absentee/mail ballot applications closer to the election, but if a voter applies too close to the election it’s unlikely that this is enough turnaround time to receive the ballot in the mail. In emergency cases, absentee ballots can be requested after these deadlines.
The following deadlines are for submitting an application by mail; a few states have deadlines nearer Election Day if the request is made in person.
Fifteen states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. have statutory deadlines for absentee/mail ballot applications that are more than seven days before the election:
- Alaska, Arizona, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Texas, Virgin Islands and Virginia.
Seven states set their statutory deadlines for absentee/mail ballot applications at seven days (one week) before the election:
- Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Twenty states have statutory deadlines for absentee/mail ballot applications that are fewer than seven days before the election:
- Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The remaining eight states conduct all-mail elections.
For more information on each state's laws, see Table 5: Applying for an Absentee Ballot, Including Third Party Registration Drives.
How Do Election Officials Verify Applications for Absentee Ballots?
Absentee/mail ballot applications require voters to provide identifying information—name, address, date of birth and often a signature, driver’s license number or the final four digits of the voter’s social security number.
When election officials receive an application from a voter, they use that information to verify the voter’s identity and eligibility before sending out the ballot. This is done in a variety of ways, but most commonly by verifying the applicant’s information in the statewide voter registration database. States may also conduct signature verification at this stage to compare the voter’s signature on the application with the voter registration signature.
Twenty-six states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands compare an applicant’s information and eligibility against the voter registration record:
- Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Texas, Virgin Islands, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Eleven states conduct signature verification in addition to checking information and eligibility against the voter registration record:
- Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Tennessee.
To conduct verification, a few states require voters to provide additional information at the time of application, such as a copy of ID or notarized application. These states may then verify the voter’s information against the voter registration record or against the provided information.
- Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Wisconsin require voters to provide a copy of ID. (Voters in South Dakota may submit a notarized oath in lieu of a copy of photo ID.) In Wisconsin, the ballot application information is checked against the enclosed ID; Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota verify the provided information against the voter registration record.
- Mississippi requires a notarized application. No further verification is done at the time of application.
- South Carolina requires voters to sign an oath. No further verification is done at the time of application.
Alaska, North Dakota and Washington, D.C., issue the ballot upon receipt of the application. These states and others verify the voter’s identity upon receipt of the ballot.
See Table 8: How States Verify Absentee Ballot Applications for more information.
When Are Absentee/Mail Ballots Sent to Voters Who Request Them?
After a voter has applied for an absentee/mail ballot and that application has been verified, election officials mail out the ballots. While a few states do not specify start dates for mailing ballots, in general, states begin mailing absentee/mail ballots during one of four time frames, as noted below.
As absentee ballot applications arrive after the start date, election officials continue mailing out ballots throughout the run-up to the election, either for a designated period or right up until Election Day.
In California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington, voters are automatically mailed ballots.
- Ten states begin mailing ballots to voters more than 45 days before the election: Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
- Eleven states begin mailing ballots to voters 45 days before the election: Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.
- Fourteen states begin mailing ballots to voters 30-45 days before the election: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Carolina and Vermont.
- Fourteen states begin mailing ballots to voters fewer than 30 days before the election: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Visit Table 7: When States Mail Out Absentee Ballots for more information.
Which States Must Provide Secrecy Sleeves for Ballots?
Many states have statutory requirements detailing what election officials must include in the mailings that go out to voters who have requested absentee/mail ballots or who will receive mail ballots automatically. Seventeen states and the Virgin Islands require that absentee/mail voters be provided with a secrecy sleeve. A secrecy sleeve—sometimes known as a privacy sleeve, inner envelope or identification envelope—is a paper document intended to protect voters’ privacy by separating their identity and signature from their ballot. After completing an absentee/mail ballot, a voter places it inside the secrecy sleeve, which then goes inside the return envelope.
Other states or jurisdictions may choose to use secrecy sleeves. In Maryland, for example, local election boards can choose whether to include them (MD Code, Election Law, § 9-310), and Colorado’s ballot mailings include an instruction sheet that can double as a secrecy sleeve if the voter so chooses.
The additional paper can increase the cost of ballot mailings, however. And secrecy sleeves may be unnecessary if the election jurisdiction has a different process to ensure a voter’s privacy when ballots are opened.
For more information, see Table 13: States that Must Provide Secrecy Sleeves for Absentee/Mail Ballots.
Returning a Voted Absentee/Mail Ballot
All states allow the return of absentee/mail ballots through the mail. Almost all states also permit voters to return a voted ballot in person at the office of the local election official (either the county election official or the town/city clerk, depending on who runs elections in the state). In addition, some states permit voters to drop off a voted absentee/mail ballot at Election Day voting locations or in secure drop boxes.
Which States Permit Voters to Drop Voted Absentee Ballots Off at Voting Locations?
Voters in almost all states can return a voted absentee/mail ballot at the county election official’s office. Some states also allow voters to return ballots at other voting locations, such as early in-person voting locations. Note: Ballot drop boxes, which may be located at polling places, are addressed in the next section.
Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have statutes allowing voters to return ballots at voting locations, such as Election Day polling places, vote centers and early in-person voting locations.
- Arizona (AZ Rev Stat § 16-547, § 16-1005)
- California (West's Ann. Cal. Elec. Code § 3025, § 3015, § 3017)
- Colorado (C.R.S.A. § 1-7.5-107.2)
- District of Columbia (D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 3, § 720)
- Hawaii (HRS § 11-104c)
- Kansas (KSA § 25-1132, KSA § 25-1128(g))
- Montana (MCA 13-13-201)
- New Mexico (NM Stat § 1-6-9)
- North Carolina (N.C.G.S.A. § 163-231)
- Oregon (ORS § 254.470)
- Vermont (17 V.S.A. § 2543)
- Virginia (VA Code Ann. § 24.2-707.1)
- Washington (West's RCWA 29A.40.091, 29A.40.160)
- Wisconsin (W.S.A. 6.87)
Which States Have Laws Governing Ballot Drop Boxes?
Some states provide ballot drop boxes, receptacles where voters can return absentee/mail ballots in sealed and signed envelopes. The drop boxes may be supervised or unsupervised with security features, such as cameras. Many states that permit or require ballot drop boxes set minimum requirements for where they must be located, how many a county must or can have, hours they must be available and security standards.
Twenty-three states have laws addressing drop boxes:
- Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Note that additional states may permit the use of drop boxes without explicit statutory provisions or leave it to the discretion of individual jurisdictions.
For more information, see Table 9: Ballot Drop Box Laws.
Who Can Collect and Drop Off an Absentee/Mail Ballot on Behalf of a Voter?
Sometimes a voter is unable to return the ballot in person or get it to a postal facility in time for it to be counted. In these cases, the voter may entrust the voted ballot to someone else—an agent or designee—to return the ballot. Returning ballots for others is known as ballot collection or, pejoratively, “ballot harvesting.”
Thirty-one states explicitly permit someone to return an absentee/mail ballot on behalf of a voter:
- Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas.
Many of these states limit this provision to a family member, household member or caregiver.
Sixteen states, however, allow a voter to designate someone—not necessarily a family member, household member or caregiver—to return their ballot for them:
- Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina and South Dakota.
Among the 31 states where a voter can authorize someone to return a ballot on their behalf, some place limits on how many and when ballots can be returned. These limits may prevent those returning ballots for others from campaigning or encouraging voters to vote in a certain way. Nine states limit how many ballots an authorized person can return:
- Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota and West Virginia.
And four states limit how long those ballots can remain in the authorized person’s possession:
- Iowa, Maine, Nevada and Oregon.
Alabama specifies that an absentee ballot must be returned by the voter either in person or by mail.
The remaining 18 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. either do not specify whether an agent or family member may return an absentee/mail ballot on behalf of a voter, or use more open language, such as a voter shall “cause” a ballot to be returned. Interpretations of what this means vary. In some states, it may mean absentee/mail ballot collection is generally accepted, and in others it may mean that this practice is not permitted.
- Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
States may also restrict whether candidates or campaign staff can serve as a designated agent to return an absentee/mail ballot, impose crimes on those who violate ballot collection laws and more. States may also have different provisions for absentee voting in case of a personal emergency or for voters who require assistance.
Find more comprehensive information on Table 10: Ballot Collection Laws.
When Must Absentee/Mail Ballots be Received by Election Officials?
Absentee/mail ballots are typically returned by mail or hand delivery, and the most common deadline for absentee/mail ballots to be returned, regardless of the method, is by the close of polls on Election Day.
No states allow hand-delivered ballots to be returned after Election Day, but five require hand-delivered ballots to be received before Election Day:
- Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, North Dakota and Vermont.
Thirty states require absentee/mail ballots returned by mail to be received on or before Election Day. These are colloquially known as “received by” states.
- Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Nineteen states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. will accept and count a mailed ballot if it is received after Election Day but postmarked on or before (sometimes only before) Election Day. Because what constitutes a postmark is changing and less mail gets truly postmarked, many states will accept an Intelligent Mail barcode as evidence. These are colloquially known as “postmarked by” states.
- Alaska, California, District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Texas, Utah, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
Louisiana requires all absentee ballots, regardless of method, to be received the day before the election.
See Table 11: Receipt and Postmark Deadlines for Absentee/Mail Ballots for details.
At least six states accept ballots from military or overseas voters after Election Day if the envelope is postmarked prior to the deadline:
- Arkansas: 10 days after the election (Ark. Code Ann. 7-5-411).
- Indiana: 10 days after the election (IC 3-12-1-17).
- Florida: 10 days of the election (Flor. Stat. Ann. 101.6952(5)).
- Missouri: by noon on the Friday after Election Day. If the voter has declared under penalty of perjury that the ballot was timely submitted, the ballot shall not be rejected on the basis that it has a late postmark, an unreadable postmark or no postmark (V.A.M.S. 115.920).
- Pennsylvania: by 5 p.m. seven days after the election (25 P.S. 3146.8).
- South Carolina: the day before the county canvass (S.C. Code 7-15-700).
Which States Have Systems for Voters To Track Their Absentee/Mail Ballots?
The 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) required states to develop a free access system by which military and overseas voters could determine whether their ballot had reached the election official and if the ballot had been counted. The MOVE Act also gave military and overseas voters additional options for returning ballots.
The MOVE Act didn’t necessarily mandate an online tracking system; a phone system would meet the requirement as well. But many states have developed online portals in the last several years. Increasingly, these have been expanded to all absentee/mail voters to track when their ballot has been sent out by election officials, when the election official receives the marked ballot back and whether the ballot was accepted for counting.
At least 20 states mandate such a system in statute or administrative rule:
- California (Cal. Elect. Code § 3019.7)
- Colorado (C.R.S.A. § 1-7.5-207)
- Delaware (15 Del. Code § 5526)
- Florida (F.S.A. § 101.62)
- Iowa (I.C.A. § 53.17A)
- Maryland (COMAR 33.11.06.03)
- Michigan (M.C.L.A. 168.764c)
- Minnesota (Minnesota Rules, part 8210.0500)
- Missouri* (V.A.M.S. 115.924)
- New Hampshire (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 657:26)
- New Mexico (N. M. S. A. § 1-6-9)
- New York (McKinney's Election Law § 8-414)
- North Carolina* (N.C.G.S.A. § 163A-1348)
- North Dakota (NDCC, 16.1-07-28)
- Oklahoma (26 Okl. St. Ann. § 14-149)
- South Carolina (S.C. Code §7-15-720)
- Texas (V.T.C.A., Election Code § 86.015)
- Utah (U.C.A. 1953 § 20A-3a-401.5)
- Virginia (VA Code Ann. § 24.2-711.1)
- Wyoming* (WY Rules and Regulations 002.0005.3 § 12)
*For military and overseas voters only
Other states that maintain webpages for tracking absentee/mail ballots, even if not required by statute, include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Some states may choose to proactively notify voters that their ballot has cleared certain steps of the process. This may be in the form of a text message or an email informing the voter that the ballot has been mailed out, delivered to the voter’s home by the U.S. Postal Service, received by the election official, etc.
Which States Pay for Postage To Return an Absentee/Mail Ballot?
In most cases, it is up to the voter to pay for postage to return an absentee/mail ballot envelope to the election official. Some see this as a barrier to returning a ballot or as a type of poll tax. One solution to this potential issue is to have ballot drop boxes widely available (see the section on drop boxes above). In states that hold all-mail elections, returning by drop box or in person is the most common return method. Another option is for election officials to pre-pay postage for voters to return their ballots.
Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., require local election officials to provide return postage for mailed ballots. This is typically a business-reply mailing, so that local officials only pay for return postage for the ballots that are actually returned via the U.S. Postal Service.
- Arizona, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
- New Jersey leaves it up to the discretion of county clerks to provide a postage paid envelope (N.J.S.A. 19:63-12).
The U.S. Postal Service has a policy of prioritizing election mail, especially ballots, and will deliver a ballot envelope even if it does not have sufficient postage. Typically, though, the post office will bill the local election office for the price of postage. If most voters don’t affix postage, this could be a significant expense for a local election office.
For military and overseas voters, federal law specifies that ballots can be returned to election officials using a free postage-paid symbol when mailed from a U.S. Post Office, Military Postal Service Agency (APO/FPO) or U.S. Diplomatic Pouch Mail. However, if voters return the ballot through a foreign mail system or via common carrier (such as FedEx, DHL or UPS), they pay for that service themselves.
Find more details on Table 12: States With Postage-Paid Election Mail.