What You Need to Know: Your 2020 Early Voting Guide  | NDTC

In this Early Voting Guide, we’ll break down each method of early voting to help you understand what it all means. We’ll also help you navigate the early voting options that may be available in your state. 

“Early voting” is an umbrella phrase used for any form of voting that isn’t in person on election day. There are three different types: 

  • Early Voting: in Person 
  • Absentee Voting: by Mail 
  • Absentee Voting: in Person 

It’s important to remember that you need to be a registered voter to vote early or vote on Election Day.

Note: If you aren’t a registered voter, or you need to update your voter registration you can register here! 

Early Voting: in Person 

Many states open polling places early to give voters more opportunities to vote in person and to allow voters more time to vote. 

Every state has different rules about voting early, for example: 

  • Louisiana opens polling places 14 days before an election, and polling places close for in-person early voting seven days before Election Day. 
  • California opens polling places 29 days before their election, and continues through Election Day.
  • Alabama does not offer any opportunities for early, in-person voting. 

Make sure you know the early voting rules for your state. You can find a comprehensive, up-to-date list of each state’s rules for early voting here. 

Early voting polling locations and hours may be different than Election Day locations and hours, so it’s important to always verify this information if you plan to vote early in person. 

Absentee Voting: by Mail 

What does it mean to: 

  • Vote absentee? 
  • Vote by mail?
  • Mail-in vote?
  • Vote by mail-in ballot? 
  • Vote by mail ballot?

It’s probably hard to tell what the difference is; that’s because they are all the same thing. 

The act of mailing an absentee ballot (mail-in ballot, vote-by-mail ballot, mail-voting ballot, mail-vote) is simply sending your ballot through the mail to be counted in an election. 

What’s an Absentee Ballot?

The National Conference of State Legislature helps us understand what these terms mean:

A ballot that has been sent to a voter and is voted outside of a polling place or election official’s office is typically referred to as an “absentee ballot” and the person who votes that ballot has been called an “absentee voter.” 

All states allow some form of voting by mail. In one-third of US states, voting by mail is only available under certain conditions such as military service or age. In the other two-thirds of states, voting by mail is available to all eligible voters. Many states have different rules about voting by mail, so it’s important to be up-to-date on your state’s specific rules and guidelines. 

What are Common Rules to Look for?

To make sure that your ballot is received and counted in the next election, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is every registered voter eligible to vote by mail, or are there restrictions? 
  • How do I obtain an application for absentee voting in my state?
  • Do I need to request a ballot, or will one be sent to me?
  • If I have to request a ballot, do I need to do that for every election, or just one time?
  • What are the Voter ID laws in my state?
  • What is the deadline for me to return my application?
  • How can I submit my absentee ballot? 
  • What is the deadline for me to mail my ballot?
  • Do I need postage? Or is the ballot prepaid?
  • What is the deadline for postmarking my ballot? 

How Can I Vote by Mail?

If you do not live in a state with all-mail elections you will need to: 

  • Apply for an absentee ballot to vote by mail 
  • Receive your ballot in the mail at your current address
  • Fill out your ballot 
  • Mail your ballot by your state’s deadline

Apply for an Absentee Ballot

A ballot will automatically be sent to your address if you are a registered voter in a state with all-mail elections (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah).

If you do not live in a state with all-mail elections, and your state’s rules allow you to vote by mail, you will need to apply for an absentee ballot. You can find your state’s rules on absentee voting and apply for an absentee ballot here. 

You can also reach out to your state government and ask them to send an absentee voter application to your current address (in or out of state). When your application arrives, fill it out, add postage (if necessary), and mail it back in the pre-addressed envelope included with your application. 

Receive Your Absentee Ballot in the Mail 

Once your application is received online or by mail, an official ballot is sent to your address for you to fill out and mail to your local board of elections by a specific deadline. Your ballot may or may not require postage. 

Absentee Voting: in Person 

Absentee voting in person means that you will cast your absentee ballot by hand-delivering your ballot to your polling place (instead of mailing your ballot) when it is open during early voting or on Election Day. 

What’s Next?

Share this Early Voting Guide with friends to encourage them to vote. Send a text that says something like “Hey! Use this Early Voting Guide to figure out how you can vote in this election!”

If you’re working for or volunteering on a campaign, check out our new Mini Lesson: Get Out The Vote: How to Talk to Voters. We’ll give you some tips for voter contact through phonebanking and texting.

Be sure to check back in for updates – we’ll update this Early Voting Guide with the most up-to-date information!



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Dana Bottenfield

Dana is an Instructional Designer and communications liaison for the Curriculum Team at NDTC. A jack-of-all trades in the world of copy, she has vast experience developing and managing content for diverse audiences and platforms. Dana works with experts and leaders in political communications to create curriculum for NDTC’s Online Academy and Staff Academy. Dana holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from The University of Kansas and an MA in Victorian Literature from Exeter University, UK. She spent over a decade in publishing before moving to a career in instructional design and content development for industry leaders. She is thrilled to bring her content expertise to NDTC to help Democrats run efficient and effective campaigns. When she’s not working, Dana enjoys cooking overly complicated meals with her husband, attending live theatre productions, and long walks on the beach with her dog, Miss Daisy.