Have questions about voting by mail?
We’ve got you covered!
What is voting by mail?
Voting by mail is sometimes referred to as “voting from home” or “absentee voting.” Different states have different rules around it, but generally, you receive your ballot in the mail, fill it out at home (or wherever is convenient!), and then you return it, either by mailing it or by hand-delivering it to an elections office or an official, secure drop box. Not only is this a convenient option for voters, but it also helps keep lines short at the polls for people who need to vote in person. Request your ballot today and keep reading for a step-by-step guide to ensure you are #VoteReady.
Are you eligible to vote by mail?
Each state determines its vote-by-mail laws and requirements. Broadly, voter eligibility falls into one of three categories: excuse required, no excuse required, or universal (where everyone automatically receives a mail ballot). Voting laws are constantly being updated, so make sure you have the most up-to-date information, and learn about the absentee ballot rules in your state.
- Excuse required: Voters in these states will need to provide a valid excuse for not voting in-person on Election Day in order to vote by mail.
- No excuse required: Any voter in these states can vote by mail if they choose to, even if they are able to vote in person on Election Day.
- Universal: Voters receive a mail ballot automatically, no action needed! If you live in a universal vote by mail state, you should double check that you’re registered at the right address so that you get your mail ballot without a problem.
If you are ineligible to vote by mail because of your situation and state requirements, make a plan to vote in person.
1. Requesting your ballot
When should I request my ballot?
Depending on when your next election is, we recommend you request your mail ballot as soon as possible before your election. Your ballot may not be delivered right away, as each state has its own timeline for sending out ballots. Find out what you need to know to vote by mail in your state here.
Some states run “All-Mail Elections” and automatically sent a ballot to all registered voters well ahead of Election Day. Check which states have this system here and make sure that your mailing address is up to date by checking your voter registration status.
Do I need an ID to request or return my ballot?
You may need an ID to request your absentee or vote-by-mail ballot in some voter ID states. Some states require you to provide a copy of your ID the first time you request an absentee ballot while others may require an ID number every time you make a request. Check out the rules for your state here. If you do not have access to a scanner or printer to copy your ID, VoteRiders can help you!
Where should I get my ballot delivered?
If you are requesting your ballot, make sure you are having it delivered to an address that you will definitely be able to access before the election. The USPS cannot forward absentee ballots. If you aren’t sure where you will be when your ballot is delivered, have it sent to a family member or a friend who can send it to you wherever you are.
How do I keep track of my ballot after I requested it?
Many states have trackers that can let you know the status of your ballot! Check to see if ballot tracking is available where you vote.
Your mail ballot may not be delivered right away, as each state has its own timeline for sending out ballots.
2. Filling out your ballot
Where can I find the instructions?
Take the extra minute to read the instructions so that your ballot gets counted. Be sure to follow the instructions about how to indicate your choice of candidates and what color ink to use. The instructions for filling out your ballot can be located both on the outer envelope or actually on the ballot itself.
- An inner envelope may be provided. If the instructions tell you to seal it, do not forget.
- Make sure you fill in the entire bubble on your ballot – don’t check, or “x” the bubble.
- Stick to blue or black pen ink.
- Do not stain or tear your ballot or the envelope. Outside the areas you were told to mark or sign, there should be no stray writing or marks.
What should my signature look like?
Your signature is critical to having your ballot counted! Don’t use your “grocery store signature.” Use your official signature to make sure that your ballot is accepted and counted. Election officials may be comparing your ballot against an old signature on file, such as the one on your driver’s license. If your signature looks too different from the signature on file, your ballot might not be counted.
Do I need to get my ballot notarized?
If the instructions on your ballot require a witness signature or a notary’s signature, don’t send it back without it! Learn more about the requirements in your state here and find a public notary here.
3. Returning your ballot
How should I return my ballot?
Voters who vote using a mail ballot may return that ballot by mail or by choosing from several in-person return options. If you plan on hand-delivering your ballot, here are some things to consider:
- Depending on the rules in your state, you may be able to drop your ballot off at a physical location. Depending on the state you are voting in, you can return your ballot at your polling place, your local election office, or an official ballot drop box.
- Different states have different deadlines for returning your ballot by mail but you’re usually able to drop off your ballot in person before or on Election Day. Additionally, there may be lines at drop boxes on Election Day, so return your ballot early if you can! Not all ballot return location data will be available until closer to the election. Find ballot drop off location options where you live.
Otherwise, send it in the mail!
- Put your ballot in the mail as soon as you can. The USPS recommends mailing your ballot at least seven days before the deadline. Deadlines to return mail ballots vary state to state, but it’s a good rule of thumb to mail your ballots no later than Oct. 27.
- If your elections department does not offer postage-paid return envelopes, be sure to apply the correct postage.
- Find out the deadline to return your ballot here.
Do I need an ID to return my ballot?
You may need to provide your ID or ID number when you return your ballot in some states. If you do not provide your ID number or if you provide the wrong number, your ballot may not be counted. Check out the rules for your state here. If you do not have access to a scanner or printer to copy your ID, VoteRiders can help you!
Do I need to buy stamps?
How do I address the envelope?
Typically, ballot return envelopes come pre-addressed. If yours doesn’t, here is a quick overview of how to address an envelope. It’s okay if your return address is different from the address where you registered to vote. Just make sure you will be able to access mail from your return address!
4. Confirming your ballot
Can I track my ballot to make sure it is delivered?
Just like you might be able to track your ballot en route to you, many states have trackers that can let you know the status of your ballot as it makes its way back to your local election office. If your state doesn’t have a tracker or if you notice that your ballot seems delayed, you can contact your local election official.
What if my ballot doesn’t get counted?
If you find out that your ballot has been challenged or was rejected, or if you lose your mail ballot, you should contact your local election official. You can also call or text the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Should I have a back up plan?
If you have issues voting by mail, you can probably still cast a ballot in person. If you receive your ballot but want to vote in person instead, try to bring your mail ballot with you to your polling place on Election Day. Call your local election office to confirm instructions for voting in person if you’ve already mailed your absentee ballot and don’t think it’ll arrive in time to count.
Ready to take the next step?
5 Days | 5 Actions
Ready to take the next step?
5 Days | 5 Actions