When you need to apply for and submit your mail-in ballot in every US state

Lexi Menth of Seattle holds up her vote-by-mail ballot as supporters line up at a rally for U.S. Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren at the Seattle Center Armory in Seattle, Washington, U.S. February 22, 2020REUTERS/Jason Redmond
  • Record numbers of American voters are expected to cast ballots by mail in the 2020 election.
  • In addition to the seven states and the District of Columbia that are sending all or most registered voters a ballot, voters can already request their November ballots in every state.
  • The process of requesting and returning a ballot can be unfamiliar and confusing to many voters, especially those in states with historically low levels of mail voting.
  • The US Postal Service is urging voters to request their ballots at least two weeks in advance but ideally as soon as possible, and mail it back at least a week before the election.

Over a dozen states have made it easier to vote by mail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a Washington Post analysis finding that over 190 million voters will have a ballot sent to them or be able to cast a ballot without an excuse beyond the fear of contracting COVID-19.

This fall, nine states and the District of Columbia, in addition to many Montana counties, are sending all or most registered voters a ballot, and several more have already sent out mail ballot application forms to all or most voters. In all remaining US states, voters can already request their November ballots.

Hundreds of thousands of ballots have gone out to voters in nearly 20 states already, with even more states gearing up to start sending ballots out to voters who have requested them this week. Advertisement

But the process of requesting and returning a ballot can be unfamiliar and confusing to many voters, especially those in states with historically low levels of mail voting. And mail votes are often rejected at higher rates than ballots cast in-person.

Half of US states are to allow US voters to request ballots through an online portal, with Kentucky, Georgia, and North Carolina recently rolling out online absentee ballot request tools.

Judges in three key swing states, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, have also recently ruled to extend the deadlines for when mail ballots must be received by, decisions that could prevent thousands from being rejected for late arrival.
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Here are the first days to apply for your ballot by mail and the deadlines to return them in every state:

Even though 31 out of the 40 states not sending all voters a ballot this November allow voters to request ballots within a week of the election, both election officials and the United States Postal Service are encouraging voters to request their ballots as soon as possible, and ideally weeks in advance, to ensure they receive their ballots on time.

In primaries so far this year, many election offices that saw exponential increases in voters requesting mail ballots at the last minute struggled to get ballots out to all voters in time in parts of Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New York. This year, Americans became familiar with the idea of flattening the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping cases at or below what the capacity of the US healthcare system can handle. Advertisement

Now, election officials and experts are applying the same analogy to mail ballot requests, encouraging voters to begin requesting their November ballots now, in September, to make sure they will receive and send back their ballots in time.

The US Postal Service, which delivers millions of mail ballots every year, has told election officials that it cannot guarantee that voters' ballots will arrive by a certain date, advising voters to plan for their ballot to take at least a 14-day round-trip.

A recent NPR analysis found that over 550,000 ballots have been rejected in primaries this year alone, many for arriving past the state's deadline, making it even more essential for voters to not leave their vote up to chance and mail their ballots back at least seven days in advance.Advertisement

Expanded Coverage Module: insider-voter-guide
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