Will You Have Enough Time to Vote by Mail in Your State?

Yes, but it’s risky to procrastinate.

In 35 states, voters can request ballots so close to Election Day that it may not be feasible for their ballots to be mailed to them and sent back to election officials in time to be counted.






Do not allow enough

time for last-minute

voting by mail

Might allow enough

time for last-minute

voting by mail

Allow enough time

for last-minute

voting by mail

Send ballots to

most voters

automatically

Do not allow enough

time for last-minute

voting by mail

Might allow enough

time for last-minute

voting by mail

Allow enough time

for last-minute

voting by mail

Send ballots to

most voters

automatically

Do not allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Might allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Send ballots to most

voters automatically

Do not allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Might allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Send ballots to most

voters automatically

Do not allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Might allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Allow enough time for

last-minute voting by mail

Send ballots to most

voters automatically


Note: In every state, ballots are sent to overseas and military voters at least 45 days before the election.·Sources: State boards of elections; secretaries of state

In the 2018 midterm elections, more than a quarter of all rejected mail ballots — 114,000 votes — were not counted because they were late. But voters should have plenty of time to cast a ballot by mail in November, as long as they don’t wait until the last minute to request one.

Most states begin sending ballots to voters more than a month before Election Day. North Carolina, for example, will begin mailing ballots on Sept. 4 — a full 60 days before the general election. Alabama will begin on Sept. 9, and Kentucky on Sept. 15.

Voting deadlines and other rules may still change, but here’s the current breakdown of how much time people have to vote by mail in each state:


Note: Mississippi and North Dakota do not have deadlines for requesting mail ballots.·Sources: State boards of elections; secretaries of state

The Postal Service has said that it is equipped to handle an expected surge in election mail, which is projected to still be less than the volume of mail sent during last year’s Christmas holiday season. But it warned states that they need to allow a buffer of seven days each way to ensure on-time delivery of ballots.

In most places, it probably won’t take that long. In 2018, more than 95 percent of election mail arrived in one to three days — a standard that the current postmaster general has committed to for November, despite reports of postal slowdowns in some places.

But 16 states allow voters to apply for mail ballots so close to Election Day that their votes could be at risk of being too late if they are sent and returned through the Postal Service. Officials in these places recommend applying for and sending in ballots early, or dropping them off at local election offices or in secure drop boxes if available.

In Minnesota, voters can request a ballot the day before the election, too late to be mailed to them on time. But if voters request their ballots early and postmark them by Election Day, they should arrive in enough time to be counted. Montana has the same deadline for requesting a ballot but does not accept those returned after the election.

“If you do not want to leave your house, you want to mail your ballot back close to Election Day, and you’re not in a state where a postmark or other information matters,” said Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, “you could encounter a challenge or an issue in your vote being counted.”


*No estimate provided for when first ballots will be mailed out, or dates vary by county.·Note: Some counties or states send out ballots out as marketing mail, which has a three- to 10-day delivery standard and costs less than first-class mail. Historically, this mail has been treated similarly to first-class mail for elections, and the postmaster general has indicated that will continue this year. Deadlines to request ballots in Kentucky and Virginia are early enough to allow for a round trip in the mail. But voters could risk being late if they wait until postmark deadlines to return their ballots.·Sources: State boards of elections; secretaries of state

These 19 states provide last-minute voters with windows of at least three days for receiving ballots and three days for returning them — which is less than half the time the Postal Service recommends but within the delivery target promised by the postmaster general. But that’s cutting it close, especially because election officials also need time to process applications before they mail the ballots.

Some states have pushed back against the Postal Service’s recommendation for seven-day windows each way. “Idaho’s absentee ballot request deadline already provides sufficient time for ballots to be mailed to the voter, marked by the voter, and returned by the voter,” said Jason Hancock, Idaho’s deputy secretary of state, in an email. “There is no need for Idaho to make any changes.”

Officials in other states have had trouble changing their deadlines. In Ohio, Secretary of State Frank LaRose pushed to move the deadline to apply for mail ballots to an earlier date. But the legislature failed to approve the proposal, so he is urging voters to send in their applications early.

“If a voter is informed of a deadline set in state law, the fair assumption is that it’s a feasible one,” Mr. LaRose wrote in an op-ed. “In this case, it’s not.”


*No estimate provided for when first ballots will be mailed out.·Note: States shown have at least 14 days between ballot request deadlines and return deadlines. But the U.S.P.S. has recommended a 15-day window to leave time for officials to process applications.·Sources: State boards of elections; secretaries of state

A handful of states should allow enough time for last-minute voters to request and return ballots on time. Maryland moved its application deadline earlier by a week and is now allowing ballots 10 days to arrive if postmarked by Election Day.

Still, even if voters are able to successfully cast a ballot right at their state’s deadline, it doesn’t mean they should. The message from election experts echoes a phrase common in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak: voting early will help “flatten the curve” of election mail and allow plenty of time for officials to process an unprecedented number of ballots.

Data from the presidential primaries in the four states below show large spikes in ballots arriving right before or on Election Day. It will be a challenge for small local elections offices to handle a flood of ballots all at once in November, said Ms. Patrick of Democracy Fund, who previously was an election official in Arizona.






When election offices received mail ballots

At least 5,000 ballots that were returned and received after election day were not counted.

A quarter of ballots were received the day before or on Election Day.

More ballots arrived the day after Election Day than on it.

When election offices received mail ballots

At least 5,000 ballots that were returned and received after election day were not counted.

More ballots arrived the day after Election Day than on it.

A quarter of ballots were received the day before or on Election Day.


In Washington State, ballots can be postmarked by Election Day and still be counted.·Sources: State boards of elections; secretaries of state

Another benefit of returning a ballot early: many states allow voters to fix, or “cure,” their ballots if they are rejected for problems like a missing signature or a signature that does not match one on file. But officials would need time to notify voters of mistakes, and fixes often need to be made by Election Day or shortly after.


Note: Most of these states were given narrow warnings by the Postal Service because they allow new registrations or address changes close to Election Day. Nevada and Oregon were found to allow sufficient time for such voters. Some Utah counties will accept ballots that arrive 14 days after the election if postmarked by the day before the election. Vermont will accept ballots on Election Day if returned to a polling place.·Sources: State boards of elections; secretaries of state

In states with all-mail elections, there is a lower risk for voters who procrastinate. While they do have to worry about returning their ballots on time, they generally do not have to request them. Nine states, and the District of Columbia, plan to send every registered voter, or every active registered voter, a ballot for the November election.

President Trump’s re-election campaign has filed lawsuits in several states that have expanded mail voting, including New Jersey, where the Democratic governor issued an executive order that all active registered voters would receive a ballot. The president has intensified his criticisms of the Postal Service and continued to make false accusations about the risks of voting by mail.

Officials in some states conducting all-mail elections have taken issue with the president’s message.

“Politicizing these administrative processes is dangerous and undermines public confidence in our elections,” said Kim Wyman, the secretary of state in Washington. “Though it is imperative the agency maintain its functionality and efficiency, this volume of work is by no means unusual, and is an operation I am confident the U.S. Postal Service is sufficiently prepared to fulfill.”

source.

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