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Policy Summary: In the United States, an absentee ballot is a voting option that permits a registered voter to receive an official ballot from the state and return the ballot to the state board of elections after he or she has filled it out at a place other than a local polling booth. The ballot is traditionally filled out at the voter’s home prior to the designated Election Day and returned before or on Election Day. The ballot is valid in every respect except for the fact that the ballot is not marked at a local polling booth.

As of May 2020, sixteen states permit voters to cast an absentee ballot but only with an approved excuse that is listed in the state statute concerning absentee ballot voting. Citizens in these states can only qualify for an absentee ballot using one of these approved excuses. Any other excuse, no matter how valid, is not accepted. Many of the same approved excuses for an absentee ballot can be found in these states – for U.S. military service members serving abroad, for those with illness or disability, those incarcerated for a crime that is not a serious felony, the person is an elected official and for workers who work shifts during polling hours. Some states also impose additional requirements such as an affidavit swearing to their excuse. The remaining thirty-four states and the District of Columbia allow various forms of absentee ballot voting for its citizens that do not require the voter to have an approved excuse. Any voter in these remaining states who requests an absentee ballot will simply receive one. LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the United States in 2020 there have been concerns as to how the virus will affect upcoming U.S. elections. This includes upcoming state primary elections this summer that have already been postponed at least once and the national election in November 2020. In early April, Wisconsin refused to postpone their state election and presidential primaries because of the virus which resulted in the state bungling election operations (delayed distribution of absentee ballots with some never even being delivered and only opening five polling booths out of a potential one hundred seventy – eight in the city of Milwaukee). This has led to calls for an absentee ballot election for the remaining 2020 scheduled elections.

While thirty – four states and the District of Columbia have made voting by absentee ballot a viable and easy option the remaining sixteen states have still not made the process to vote by absentee ballot in their state as easy as it should be. Most of the states are red states in the South (Indiana, NY and Connecticut are the other states). The main impediment at the moment is the process to qualify for an absentee ballot. The sixteen states still require an approved excuse and it is not exactly clear if the threat of a deadly virus qualifies as an approved excuse. This could lead to a possible scenario where a voter would request an absentee ballot because of fear of infection from COVID-19 and be denied.

When compared to how the rest of the states have been administering their absentee ballots it is clear that, given enough time, states can efficiently and effectively conduct an all – mail election. The requirement of having an approved excuse should no longer be a barrier for any citizen who wants to cast their ballot. The Brennan Center of Justice has conducted research that shows mail – ballots have been the primary method of voting in five states, that mail – in ballots have bipartisan support and that voting by mail encourages fraud is simply false. While the approved excuses used by the remaining sixteen states are noble efforts to permit absent voters to cast their ballot it is clear that circumstances have changed and that other more modern options employed by the rest of the country is the wave of the future that needs to be implemented in the remaining states. There is no need to require a separate affidavit statement when a signature and warning on the back of the envelope will suffice. Additionally, many states on the west coast automatically mail a ballot to all voters with the option to drop it off in the mail or bring it to a voting booth on Election Day and those states have administered their elections with almost no administrative problems. With more and more people opting to vote at home by absentee ballot because of personal convenience there is no need to restrict absentee voter eligibility to only military service members and others who cannot physically appear at a local polling station. The traditional reasons for an absentee ballot have been swept away by the COVID-19 2020 pandemic. With more and more states employing no – excuse absentee ballots and a history of managing all – mail elections successfully it is time for the remaining sixteen states to follow their sister states and make an all mail – ballot election possible for 2020 and in the years to come. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

  • Rock the Vote – non – profit group’s infopage on each state’s absentee ballot voting rules.
  • Brennan Center for Justice – group statement on why COVID-19 should be accepted as an excuse to permit voters to vote by absentee ballot (with updates on individual states thus far in 2020).
  • Vote at Home – non – profit group’s webpage advocating for voters to have the option to vote at home and with a collection of vote at home documents and success stories.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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