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How vote by mail works in all 50 states for Election Day 2020 – CNET

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How states are handling voting by mail for the general election.

James Martin/CNET

This story is part of Elections 2020, CNET’s coverage of the run-up to voting in November.

How will you cast your vote in the Nov. 3 election: In person on election day, through early in-person voting or in the mail? Every state offers some form of voting by mail, but without overarching federal guidelines, the rules for who gets to cast a mail-in ballot — and the steps they need to follow — vary state by state. 

For example, a handful of states will send an absentee ballot to each registered voter. Others will require voters to apply for a mail-in ballot, citing a reason why they can’t show up in person. And a few require a witness to observe the voter marking the ballot. In between are “no-excuse” states that will send a mail-in ballot to a voter who requests one for any reason. 

As a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, up to 50% of voters are estimated to cast their ballot by mail as one measure to keep from spreading or acquiring COVID-19. Absentee voting is already on the rise, growing from 7.8% in 1996 and to nearly 21% in 2016, according to Pew Research Center. (If you do vote in person, here’s how to stay safe.)

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Here’s how each state and the District of Columbia is handling elections this year. Note that many states are still finalizing their plans for the November election — check back for updates.

How vote by mail will work in your state

Knowing how your state will treat mail-in ballots can help you plan how you’ll vote this year.

Alabama: Prior to 2020, the state required an excuse to vote by mail, such illness. For a July run-off election, a judge blocked that requirement, and for the general election, the state issued an emergency rule that allows any qualified voter to request an absentee ballot.

Alaska: The state is taking steps to ensure voters and polling station workers stay safe for this election this year, including giving voters masks and latex gloves. For its August primary and November general elections, anyone can request a mail-in ballot. The state requires a witness to observe a voter signing the absentee ballot.

Arizona: The state is one of many that offers no-excuse absentee voting, which means any Arizonan can request a one-time or permanent mail-in ballot without needing to give a reason. 

Arkansas: To vote by mail, you need to request an absentee ballot with an excuse why you can’t vote in person, such as illness or physical disability. The state’s Board of Election Commissioners said concern about COVID-19 is a valid excuse to request an absentee ballot.

California: For the November general election the state will send a mail-in ballot to all registered voters prior to the election. Normally, California voters would need to request a mail-in ballot. Polling places will also be open for those who want to vote in person, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.

Colorado: Since 2013, every voter in the state receives a mail ballot. If the voter prefers to vote at the polls, they have the option of going to a polling center.

Connecticut: Normally requiring an excuse to vote by mail, Connecticut will allow any voter to receive an absentee ballot for the November election.

Delaware: For its July primary, the state allowed any voter who was self-quarantining or practicing social distancing to cast an absentee ballot and extended the provision for the fall election.

District of Columbia: D.C. voters can request an absentee ballot without an excuse. In its primary election, the District opened just 20 of its normal 143 polling places, with long lines at each to vote.

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Avoid your polling place and vote safely through the mail.

Caroline Brehman/Getty

Florida: The state allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot without a reason. The state also allowed election officials to count ballots cast for the November election earlier than normally allowed because of the pandemic.

Georgia: A registered voter can request an absentee ballot without an excuse by applying.

Hawaii: Starting this year, Hawaii will hold elections by mail. Registered voters will receive ballots a few weeks before an election.

Idaho: Because of the pandemic, for its May primary, the state exclusively used absentee voting. For November, any registered voter can request a mail-in ballot.

Illinois: In the state, any registered voter can request a mail-in ballot

Indiana: Voters must submit a request along with a reason why they can’t vote in person to receive an absentee ballot. For its recent June 2 primary, the state relaxed its restrictions, allowing voters to cast ballots by mail to keep voters and poll workers safe from coronavirus. The state will not extend those provisions for November.

Iowa: Any Iowa registered voter can request an absentee ballot without a reason.

Kansas: The state lets any registered voter vote by mail using what it calls “an advance by mail ballot.”

Kentucky: For the general election this fall, any registered voter can request an absentee ballot. In preceding election cycles, voters needed an excuse to vote by mail.

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Louisiana: In Louisiana, you are required to have an excuse, such as age or hospitalization, to vote by mail. For its July and August election, registered voters could use concerns about exposure to coronavirus as a reason. For the November election the state is considering narrowing the exception to those who test positive in the days leading up to the election.

Maine: Another no-excuse state, any registered voter can cast an absentee ballot instead of voting in person.

Maryland: Any registered voter may vote by mail-in ballot in the state without a reason. The state has done away with referring to postal voting as “absentee” and instead requires election officials to refer to absentee ballots as “mail-in ballots” and absentee voting as “mail-in voting.”

Massachusetts: Another state that normally requires an excuse to receive a mail-in ballot, Massachusetts for the November election is extending absentee voting to all registered voters.

Michigan: The state allows any registered voter to request a mail-in ballot, with a reason.

Minnesota: A no-excuse state, Minnesota has also removed the requirement for a witness signature on an absentee ballot for the November election.

Mississippi: To vote by mail, Mississippi required an excuse that prevents you from voting in person such as age or health. For November, those who are in a physician-imposed quarantine or who are caring for a dependent under quarantine can vote by absentee ballot.

Missouri: The state requires a reason to vote by mail, including if the voter is at risk for contracting or transmitting coronavirus. Voters need to submit a request form with their reason.

Montana: Normally, any registered voter can vote by absentee ballot by submitting an application. For its June primary, the state conducted an all mail-in election, mailing absentee ballots to every active voter prior to the election. For November, the state is allowing counties to conduct all-mail voting.

Nebraska: Another “no-excuse” state, any registered voter can request an absentee ballot.

Nevada: In a typical year, the state lets any voter request a mail-in ballot. For November, the state will run a “hybrid” election and mail an absentee ballot to all registered voters. Voters can still cast their ballot in person at a polling station.

New Hampshire: To allow any registered voters to cast a ballot by mail and not risk infection, New Hampshire changed its voting rules this spring to allow any voter to vote by mail.

New Jersey: The state decided in August it will send mail-in ballots to all registered voters for the upcoming election. In preceding elections, voters needed to request a vote-by-mail ballot.

New Mexico: Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot. Election officials request voters mail their ballots by Oct. 27 to ensure it’s received in time, due to possible postal delays.

New York: Normally requiring an excuse to vote by mail, for its June primary, the state modified its rules and allowed any voter to send in an absentee ballot to avoid coming in contact with the virus. New York will keep the broader mail-in voting guidelines for November.

North Carolina: The state lets any registered voter request a mail-in ballot without an excuse. For the November election, the state has reduced how many people need to observe your filling out the mail-in ballot from two to one.

North Dakota: The state lets any resident who’s lived a voting precinct for 30 days prior to an election to request a mail-in ballot.

Ohio: Any registered voter in Ohio can request a mail-in ballot for the November election.

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Mail-in ballots are going out.

JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

Oklahoma: Oklahoma allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot without reason. Unlike other election cycles, this year voters do not need to have their signature notarized or witnessed by two people. 

Oregon: Oregon was the first state, in 2000, to move to an all postal election — where every registered voter receives a mail-in ballot — and will conduct its elections this year by mail.

Pennsylvania: The state draws a clear line between mail-in and absentee voting. Any registered voter may request a mail-in ballot, without reason. If you are unable to go to the polls, however, the state requires you to cast an absentee ballot instead.

Rhode Island: The state allows anyone  who doesn’t want to vote in person to request an absentee ballot. In a normal election year, the state required two witnesses or a notary to observe the voter fill out the ballot, but the state has waived that requirement this year.

South Carolina: For its June primary election, the state allowed any registered voter to cast a mail-in ballot without an excuse. The no-excuse expansion expired July 1, however, but the state legislature is looking to extend no-excuse absentee voting  for the Nov. 3 election. Unlike in previous elections, the state will not require a witness signature on the absentee ballot.

South Dakota: For its April primary, the state mailed absentee ballots to all registered voters. South Dakota allows anyone to vote by mail but has not decided yet if it will again mail ballots to all registered voters for the November election.

Tennessee: In a usual election year, voters are required to submit a request to vote by mail and provide an excuse. A judge has ordered election officials to list the risk of infection as a valid reason to request an absentee ballot.

Texas: To vote by mail in Texas, voters need to submit an application for an absentee ballot along with an excuse — such as disability or age. 

See more: CNET’s full election 2020 coverage

Utah: One of five states — with Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington — that hold all-mail elections

Vermont: For the November election, the state will mail absentee ballots to all registered voters. To help check infections, Vermont will also allow voters to cast ballots at outdoor and drive-through polling places.

Virginia: While the state allows any registered voter to request a mail-in ballot, in a normal election year, absentee voters are required to have a witness present while voting. This year, the state is waiving the requirement for a witness signature on the ballot.

Washington: Another state that holds all mail-in elections, each county will open a polling center for those who want to vote in person.

West Virginia: While the state normally requires an excuse to vote by mail, for its June primary election, West Virginia opened absentee voting to all voters because of the pandemic. For the November election, voters can use concerns about COVID-19 as an excuse.

Wisconsin: The state lets registered voters request an absentee ballot for any reason. The state requires a witness to observe the voter marking the absentee ballot.

Wyoming: Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot, without excuse.

For more, what you need to know about voting this fall, when early voting starts in your state and why it’s nearly impossible to pull off mail fraud with absentee ballots.

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