With the number of COVID-19 cases rising sharply, more states are starting to look at mail-in and absentee voting as a safe way for eligible voters to cast their ballots in November. This is an understandable alternative as in person voting could force people to be in close proximity to each other during a time of social distancing. To keep readers abreast of current developments, we will review current voting options, including mail-in and absentee voting; look at what changes Congress is considering; and remind you that the ABA Election Center has resources to help you and others prepare to vote.
Current Voting Options
While voting in person remains an option in all states, voting by mail is currently a hot topic. According to a the PEW Research Center, 71% of voters think people should be able to vote by mail for any reason, and the US Election Assistance Commission recently found that “roughly one out of every four Americans [have] cast a mail ballot” in the last two federal elections. However, state laws differ dramatically around the country, making it very difficult to know your options.
Currently, five states conduct all elections by mail, automatically sending every registered voter a mail-in ballot (CO, HI, OR, UT, and WA). In other states, voters may request to vote by mail through an absentee ballot. In the majority of states, voters do not need to have a reason to request to vote absentee, while a minority of states like Alabama require absentee ballot requests to provide a valid excuse and a notary-supervised signature. Check the ABA Election Center to see an updated list of your state’s laws on absentee and mail-in voting and, in applicable cases, information on how to request your ballot.
Many states that require an excuse to vote by absentee ballot have yet to determine whether the COVID-19 pandemic will be an acceptable reason to request a mail-in ballot for the November general election, but five states did not allow the pandemic as a reason to vote by mail in their primaries: Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.