Table 16: When Absentee/Mail Ballot Processing and Counting Can Begin

5/17/2022

Our organization does not run elections and cannot provide legal advice. If you are a voter looking for assistance, please contact your local election official. You can find your local election official's website and contact information by using this database from the US Vote Foundation.

This table is part of NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place report.

Absentee/mail ballots must be processed before they can be counted, and in many states, processing can begin before ballots are allowed to be counted.

Processing

“Processing” means different things in different states, but typically the first step is to compare the signature on the outside of the return envelope with the voter’s signature on record to ensure a match.

In some states, once the signature is verified the envelope can be opened and the ballot prepared for tabulation by removing it from the envelope, flattening it and stacking it with other ballots. Some states may allow ballots to be run through the scanner, as well, but without hitting the “tally” button to actually obtain results.

Thirty-eight states and the Virgin Islands permit election officials to begin processing absentee/mail ballots prior to the election.

  • Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

Nine states and Washington, D.C., permit election officials to begin processing absentee/mail ballots on Election Day, but prior to the closing of the polls.

  • Alabama, District of Columbia, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Maryland does not permit the processing of absentee/mail ballots until after the polls close on Election Day.

And in two states and Puerto Rico, the day on which processing may begin is not specified:

  • Connecticut allows processing to begin at the discretion of the local registrar of voters.
  • Ohio allows processing to begin before counting at a time determined by the board of elections.
  • Puerto Rico does not specify.

Counting

Counting is the act of tallying the votes on processed ballots for a result. Like “processing,” the definition of “counting” (or tabulating or tallying) can vary by state, and some states may consider counting to include scanning ballots through voting equipment without obtaining a final tally or result. NCSL defers to each state’s terminology when distinguishing between processing and counting.

Most states begin counting (or tabulating or tallying, depending on the state’s terminology) absentee/mail ballots on Election Day. Most states also prohibit election results from being released until after the polls close, and many states make it a crime to share results earlier than that.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., do not allow counting to begin until the polls close:

  • Alabama, Alaska, District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Twenty-three states allow counting to begin on Election Day, but before the polls close:

  • Arkansas, California, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Ten states allow both processing and counting to begin before Election Day:

  • Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada and Utah.

Connecticut leaves the time for counting to the discretion of the local registrar of voters. In the Virgin Islands, counting begins after absentee ballots have been processed but the timeline is not specified, and Puerto Rico does not specify.

State

When Absentee/Mail Ballot Processing Can Begin

When Absentee/Mail Ballot Counting Can Begin

Alabama

Code of Ala. §17-11-10

7 a.m. on Election Day.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Alaska

Alaska Stat. §15.20.201

Seven days before Election Day.

8 p.m. on Election Day.

Arizona

Ariz. Stat. §16–550, §16-551

Upon receipt.

Tallying can begin immediately after processing, but results may not be released before all precincts have reported or one hour after the close of polls on Election Day. Releasing information earlier is a felony.

Arkansas

A.C.A. § 7-5-416

Seven days before Election Day.

8:30 a.m. on Election Day, but results are not reported until after the polls close on Election Day.

California

West's Ann. Cal. Elec. Code § 15101

Twenty-nine days before Election Day.

A vote count can be accessed or released at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Colorado

C.R.S.A. § § 1-7.5-107.5

Upon receipt.

Fifteen days before Election Day, but the count cannot be released until after 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Connecticut

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-150a

At the discretion of the local registrar of voters.

At the discretion of the local registrar of voters.

Delaware

15 Del. C. § 5510

Friday before Election Day.

Friday before Election Day, but the count cannot be extracted or reported until polls close on Election Day.

District of Columbia

D.C. Mun. Regs. Tit. 3, § 808

Signatures can be verified and the secrecy envelope removed prior to tabulation. Exact timing not specified.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Florida

West's F.S.A. § 101.68

§ 101.5612

Upon receipt.

Upon the completion of the public testing of automatic tabulating equipment (which begins not more than 25 days before early voting commences). Releasing the results early is a felony.

Georgia

O.C.G.A. § 21-2-386

Signature verification conducted upon receipt, and further processing can begin at 8 a.m. on the third Monday before Election Day.

7 a.m. on Election Day.

Hawaii

HRS § 15-9, § 11-108, §11-152

Signature verification conducted upon receipt, and further processing can begin eighteen days before Election Day.

Eighteen days before Election Day, but results cannot be disclosed until after the polls close on Election Day.

Idaho

Idaho Code §34-1005, § 34-1007, §34-1008

Signature verification conducted upon receipt. Ballots are not opened until they are delivered to the polls or central location for counting.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Illinois

10 ILCS 5/19-8

Signature verification must begin within two days of receipt.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Indiana

IC 3-11.5-4-11, 3-11.5-4-12

Upon receipt.

Depending upon the county, 6 a.m. on Election Day or immediately after the electronic poll books used at each polling place or vote center have been updated to indicate the county received the absentee ballot.

Iowa

Iowa Code §53.23

The day before Election Day if directed by the commissioner to do so.

On Election Day, at a time set by the election commissioner to allow a reasonable amount of time to complete the count of absentee ballots by 10 p.m. on Election Day. The commissioner may also choose to convene the board the day before the election.

Kansas

K.S.A. § 25-1134

Prior to Election Day. Exact timing not specified.

Ballots may be counted prior to Election Day, but final tabulation shall not be completed until Election Day.

Kentucky

KRS § 117.087

May begin 14 days before Election Day and must start by 8 a.m. on Election Day.

Counting begins after all absentee ballots have been processed.

Louisiana

LSA-R.S. 18:1313, 18:1313.1

Parishes with more than 1,000 absentee ballots may begin three days before Election Day with written approval of the secretary of state, or one day before Election Day without. Parishes with fewer than 1,000 absentee ballots may begin prior to the close of polls on Election Day.

Counting may begin before the polls close on Election Day, but no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Maine

21-A M.R.S.A. § 759, 760-B

Seven days before Election Day if notice of processing times is posted at least 30 days before the election.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Maryland

MD Code, Election Law, § 11-302

After the election.  

8 a.m. the Wednesday after Election Day.

Massachusetts

M.G.L.A. 54 § 94 and § 95

Upon receipt.

On Election Day and no later than an hour after the polls close.

Michigan

MCLS §168.765(a)

At 7a.m. on Election Day.  

At 7 a.m. on Election Day.  Anyone with access to absentee ballot counting must sign an oath that information related to processing and tallying will not be communicated in any way until after the polls close.

Minnesota

M.S.A. §203B.121

Verification upon receipt. After the close of business on the seventh day before the election, verified ballots can be opened and deposited in a ballot box.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Mississippi

Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-639

On Election Day when polls open.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Missouri

V.A.M.S. 115.299, 115.300

Five days before Election Day.

On Election Day.

Montana

Mont. Code Anno., § 13-13-241

Signature verification conducted upon receipt. Three business days before Election Day, election officials may open the secrecy envelope and place the ballot in a secured ballot box until tabulation occurs.

One day before Election Day, if using a vote-counting machine. Tabulation using a manual count may not begin until Election Day. Access to an electronic system containing early tabulation results is limited to the election administrator and the election administrator’s designee.

Nebraska

Neb. Rev. Stat. §32-1027

Verification can begin the second Friday before Election Day. If approved, the envelope can be opened, the ballot unfolded and flattened and placed in a sealed container.

Twenty-four hours before the opening of the polls. No results shall be released until after polls close on Election Day.

Nevada

N.R.S. AB 321, § 11, 13, 15

Signature verification conducted upon receipt.

Fifteen days before Election Day, and counting must be completed by the seventh day after the election. Results may not be reported until the close of the polls.

New Hampshire

N.H. Rev. Stat. § 659:49

At 1 p.m. on Election Day, unless a different time, no earlier than two hours after the opening of the polls, is posted and announced.

After the polls close on Election Day.

New Jersey

N.J.S.A. 19:63-17, 19:63-22

Signature verification conducted upon receipt. The inner envelopes cannot be opened until Election Day.

On Election Day.  

New Mexico

N. M. S. A. § 1-6-14

Any time after mailed ballots have been sent until the fifth day before the election, the county clerk may convene an election board to verify returned mail ballots. If more than 10,000 absentee ballots are sent, they may be opened and inserted into an electronic voting machine two weeks before Election Day. If fewer than 10,000 absentee ballots are sent, they may be opened and inserted into an electronic voting machine five days before the election.

Absentee ballots are inserted into vote-counting machines before Election Day, but votes are not counted until after the polls close. It is unlawful for a person to disclose the results of a count prior to the close of the polls or the deadline for receiving mailed ballots.

New York

McKinney's Election Law § 9-209

Verification within four days of receipt. Ballots are placed in counting machines and scanned the day before the first day of early voting.

One hour before the polls close on Election Day, but results cannot be released until the close of polls on Election Day.

North Carolina

N.C.G.S.A. § 163‑230.1 and 163-234

At county board of elections meetings, beginning the fifth Tuesday before Election Day. Counties using optical scan devices may remove ballots from their envelopes and place them in tabulators.

5 p.m. on Election Day, unless a resolution is adopted at least two weeks before the election to allow counting for all absentee ballots to begin at 2 p.m. on Election Day. Results shall not be announced before 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

North Dakota

NDCC, 16.1-07-12

Three business days before Election Day.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Ohio

Ohio Rev. Code § 3509.06

Processing, including using automatic tabulating equipment to scan ballots, may begin before the time for counting ballots at a time determined by the board of elections. Exact timing not specified.

Exact timing not specified, but the count may not be disclosed prior to the close of the polls.

Oklahoma

26 Okl. St. Ann. § 14-123, 14-125

10 a.m. on the Thursday before Election Day, or earlier with approval by the secretary of the state election board.

On Election Day or prior to Election Day with approval by the secretary of the state election board. When counting occurs before Election Day, the county election board shall remove the election results storage media from the voting device, without obtaining a printout of results, and seal ballots counted that day in a transfer case secured by the sheriff until the time the board next meets to count. Results cannot be reported earlier than 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Oregon

O.R.S. § 254.478, § 260.705

Upon receipt.

Results may not be made public until after 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Pennsylvania

25 P.S. § 3146.8

7 a.m. on Election Day.

At 7 a.m. on Election Day, but the votes may not be recorded or published until after the polls close.

Puerto Rico

Not specified. Not specified.

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-26, §17-22-1             

Fourteen days before Election Day.

8 p.m. on Election Day.

South Carolina

S.C. Code § 7-15-420

9 a.m. on Election Day.

9 a.m. on Election Day. Results may not be reported until after the polls close.

South Dakota

SDCL § 12-19-43, § 12-19-46

On Election Day prior to the close of the polls.

After the polls close on Election Day.

Tennessee

Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-202, § 2-6-303, § 2-6-304

Signature verification conducted upon receipt.

On Election Day after the polls open and no later than four hours before closing for general elections, or two hours before closing for all other elections.

Texas

V.T.C.A., Election Code § 87.0241, § 87.027§ 87.041

No more than 20 days before Election Day.

When the polls open on Election Day. In a jurisdiction with more than 100,000 people, counting can begin at the end of the early in-person voting period.

Utah

U.C.A. 1953 § 20A-3a-402

Processing may begin before Election Day. Exact timing not specified.

Counting may begin before Election Day. Exact timing not specified. Results may not be reported until after the polls close on Election Day.

Vermont

17 V.S.A. § 2546a, 2546b

Ballots may be deposited into the vote tabulator 30 days before Election Day, if the board of civil authority votes to do so.

At the close of polls on Election Day.

Virgin Islands

18 V.I.C. § 666, 667

Upon receipt. After all absentee ballots have been processed.

Virginia

VA Code Ann. § 24.2-709.1, § 24.2-712

Upon receipt.

At the close of polls on Election Day, but ballots may be inserted into ballot-counting machines prior to the closing of the polls. If absentee ballots are counted by hand, tallying may begin after noon on Election Day. Vote counts may not be reported until after the polls close.

Washington

West's RCWA 29A.40.110, 29A.84.730

Upon receipt.

8 p.m. on Election Day. No person may divulge any results of the count prior to 8 p.m. on Election Day. A violation is a misdemeanor.

West Virginia

W. Va. Code, § 3-3-8

Absentee ballots are delivered to precincts on Election Day.

On Election Day. Results may not be disclosed until the polls close and precinct returns are posted on the door of polling places; to do so is a violation of the oath taken by the counting board.

Wisconsin

W.S.A. 6.88

After the polls open on Election Day.

After the polls open on Election Day.

Wyoming

W.S § 22-9-121 and 125

The Thursday or Friday preceeding Election Day.

On Election Day.