Vote by mail, also called mail-in voting, allows those who are registered to vote to receive a ballot at their designated mailing address, typically a few weeks before the election. After completing the ballot, the registered voter can either mail it back or drop it in a drop-box before Election Day.
Mail-in voting is similar to absentee ballots. Absentee ballots started during the Civil War, allowing soldiers to cast their ballots in their home states. Absentee ballots became more common as they made voting more accessible to more people, such as those who are facing emergency situations or those who have a disability. Over time, many states began expanding access to absentee voting.
Today, 34 states and the District of Columbia allow any voter to ask for an absentee ballot even if they are physically able to vote in person on Election Day. This is called “no-excuse absentee voting.” The other 16 states have specific requirements to receive an absentee ballot but have relaxed their rules due to the coronavirus pandemic. This means that someone can cite the virus as an excuse for their request.
Election officials began referring to absentee ballots as “advanced ballots,” “mailed ballots,” “vote-by-mail ballots,” and “mail ballots” as the practice became more widespread and the policy of absentee voting was expanded to be available more people. If you are in the United States, you must register to vote before you’re eligible to receive an absentee ballot.
Currently, five states conduct all elections by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Oregon was the first state to implement this system in 2000. Hawaii was the most recent state to implement all-mail ballot elections in 2020.
Three states permit counties to opt into conducting all elections by mail: California, Nebraska, North Dakota. Nine states permit some elections to be conducted by mail: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Five states permit certain jurisdictions to be designated as all-mail based on population: Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico.
The following states have no-excuse absentee voting: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado (all-mail elections), District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii (all-mail eletions), Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon (all-mail elections), Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah (all-mail elections), Vermont, Virginia, Washington (all-mail elections), Wisconsin, and Wyoming.