Here's Everything You Need To Know About Voting Via Absentee Ballot

Yes, Your Vote Counts — Here’s How To Do It By Mail

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Scary Mommy and wissanu99/RobinOlimb/Getty

Maybe you don’t want to stand in line with a bunch of possibly COVID-19 infected people who may or may not be practicing proper social distancing. Maybe the pandemic has you, for the first time, considering voting by absentee ballot. You’ve never done it before, and you’re a little worried about how this is going to go down.

You probably should be. The rules vary by state. They’re tangled. They’re confusing. And with COVID-19, they’re changing constantly. My state, for example, allowed anyone to vote by absentee ballot in our June 2020 elections— but is unlikely, for political reasons, to extend that same courtesy to the general election. You need to know your rights, and know them now, before you either make plans that won’t work (like we were doing) or get caught in some political crossfire.

Register to Vote

We said this before, and we’ll say it again: make sure you’re registered to vote. You can do that here. Check that your name (your legal name), address, and vital information is correct on your voter registration card. If it’s not, get it changed ASAP. Check the requirements for any voter identification laws.

If you’re not registered to vote, this site will walk you through the process in your state. It’s important that you do this now, especially if you plan to cast an absentee ballot. Though deadlines vary, many states require you to register a certain number of days before you mail your ballot in.

Are Absentee Ballots Are A Good Thing Right Now?

Many states are making it legal to cast an absentee ballot for any reason because of the pandemic. As the Brooking Institute points out, there were serious obstacles to voting before the pandemic: people didn’t trust the voting process, votes were suppressed by various means (such as gerrymandering, or redrawing voting areas so that either Democrats or [usually] Republicans are guaranteed a victory; making it difficult for certain voters, usually Black ones, to vote; voter intimidation), and non-voting.

During the primaries, some of the states, such as Iowa, that allowed mail-in voting for any reason saw a 1,000 percent increase in the number of voters that they saw during the last election: 24% of eligible voters cast ballots, according to The Hill. Montana’s primary was conducted entirely by mail; an astounding 55% of eligible voters participated.

The president is not cool with this. As he tweeted on July 31:

News alert: he can’t do that unless Congress approves, and he isn’t the boss of the House of Representatives or the Senate, even if they do have a Republican majority. He argues that mail-in voting, according to The Hill, gives the Democrats an advantage. Actually, there’s no evidence it benefits one party over the other. So absentee balloting is a win-win. More people get to vote; less people get sick.

We want to protect absentee balloting rights whenever possible.

Can YOU Vote By Absentee Ballot?

This is where things get tricky.

The Brookings Institute offers a state-by-state breakdown of which states allow absentee balloting simply because of the pandemic. You can check to see if yours is one of them. If it is, score!

Other states have varying rules about who’s allowed an absentee ballot. The reasons vary in strictness. My state, for example, is fairly strict. We’re not allowed an absentee ballot unless we manage some pretty fancy footwork (which we may be planning— or we have a fairly small precinct, so we may just vote at a time when most people are likely to be working). Make sure you check the rules. My husband and I blithely assumed we’d be allowed an absentee ballot simply because, well, absentee ballots for all, right? We were completely and totally wrong.

Make sure you go through the process of requesting an absentee ballot. You can do this by mail in every single state, and here’s how you do it. This is one of those things you do right now. If you’re eligible for an absentee ballot, get it in your grubby little hands, fill it out, and send it where it needs to go. Double-check the address if they don’t provide an an envelope. Make sure you use the proper postage. This is all elementary, but I’m saying it because it’s something I would do, and I’m pretty sure we’re all feeling a little frazzled lately. Don’t get disenfranchised because you used the wrong stamp.

How To Vote By Absentee Ballot: Closeup of Vote by Mail envelope
Darylann Elmi/Getty

Check The Deadline For Voting

Oh yeah, there are deadlines. And if you don’t meet them, your vote doesn’t count.

Now you have to check another website. Make sure you mail your absentee ballot by the right time so it’s in the hands of the right people by — but preferably before — the deadline. You don’t want to do all this work for no reason only to have your vote held up by a postal snafu, so vote with plenty of time to spare. This isn’t something you leave until the last minute.

Follow the Rules

Do this right. Some states, such as Alabama, require you stick a copy of your ID in with your ballot. Your ballot also can’t be in the same envelope as someone else’s ballot (WTF, Alabama?). So don’t screw it up on a technicality.

To summarize:

  1. Register to vote now.
  2. Check that you’re eligible to cast an absentee ballot.
  3. Request an absentee ballot now. 
  4. Vote according to the rules.
  5. Mail your ballot by the deadline your state set.

Scary Mommy wants every single vote to count: Democrat, Republican, Green, and otherwise. Exercise your right as an American citizen.

Get out the vote.