Mailing It In?
3 out of 4 eligible American voters may cast their ballot for president by mail on November 3rd.
What’s Changed &
Why It Matters
Origins & Evolution
- The concept of voting “in absentia” dates back to the Civil War – as a way for military members to cast ballots.
- By the late 1800s, states began allowing non-military voters to use absentee mail-in ballots with a valid excuse (ex: sick). States started allowing absentee voting without an excuse in the 1980s.
- Today “voting by mail” refers to both absentee voting and “universal vote-by-mail.”
- Every state allows registered voters to apply for absentee mail-in ballots; 16 require a specific excuse (ex: caregiver, vacation scheduled).
- 34 states & DC allow any voter to apply for “no-excuse absentee” mail-in ballot.
- 5 states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have “universal vote-by-mail” meaning they conduct all elections by mail and automatically send everyone a mail-in ballot.
- The specific laws governing who can vote absentee (and how) vary by state.
- Ballots are sent to registered voters’ official addresses per state records.
- Voters apply for mail-in ballots during a specified time period, & must have their ballots postmarked by a given deadline.
- Some states require election officials to check voters’ signatures. Others require mail-in ballots to be notarized.
- In response to COVID-19, 4 states (CA, NJ, NV, VT) & DC are mandating mail-in ballots be sent to all registered voters. All three have had absentee voting on the books for decades.
- While California and Vermont have consistently voted Democrat, Nevada may be viewed as a swing state – making both parties concerned about safe, secure, reliable voting.
- “Traditional” voting has been on the decline as more states expand voting options in order to provide flexibility.
- In 2016, about a quarter of presidential election votes were cast via mail (both absentee and universal vote-by-mail).
- From 2008 to 2016, the share of voters who voted by mail in the presidential elections grew by about 4%.
And then there’s early voting… 39 states & DC allow voters to vote in person on designated days anywhere from 4 to 45 days before Election Day. Early voting has also soared recently, more than doubling from 2004 to 2016 to about 24M. HOW WILL YOU VOTE IN NOVEMBER?
by Jenna Lee,