What Is the Difference Between Mail-In Voting and Absentee Ballots?

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Voting by mail has been an option for American voters for a long time, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought more attention to the topic as Americans try to plan how to safely cast their votes in the upcoming election this November 3.

Though mail-in voting, all-mail voting and absentee ballots ultimately have the same result, with voters casting their ballots without needing to physically go to the polls on election day, there can be some confusion surrounding the different terms.

How long have Americans been able to vote by mail?

Generations of Americans have been able to cast their ballots outside of the voting booth. This practice goes back to the 1800s when Civil War troops were able to cast their votes from the battlefield, reports National Geographic.

What is all-mail voting?

Mail-in voting is a process in which a state sends ballots to its registered voters. “All-mail” elections mean that every registered voter automatically gets a ballot sent to their registered address that they can either mail back or return in person. Voters don’t have to fill out any additional forms or paperwork, though if their address has changed, they do need to notify their board of elections.

What are absentee ballots?

An absentee ballot is another way of voting by mail, however in this instance a voter has to specifically request that the ballot be sent to them. Some states allow voters to request an absentee ballot without any stipulations, but some require an excuse. Common excuses include things like being a member of the armed forces who is deployed outside of their home state, college students who go to school in another state, or poll workers who are assigned to another polling place outside of their regular polling place, though they vary from state to state.

How will my state handle voting by mail in the 2020 election?

According to CNN, the following states will conduct the 2020 election primarily by vote-by-mail:

California
Colorado
Hawaii
Nevada
Oregon
Utah
Vermont
Washington
Washington, D.C.

The following states will allow voters to request a mail ballot without any stipulations:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Illinois
Iowa
Kansas
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Virginia
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

These states require voters to provide an excuse in order to request a mail-in ballot:

Indiana
Kentucky
Louisiana
Mississippi
New York
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas

17 of these states changed their rules due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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