[Final Note] Voting Absentee in 2020

Dear Rich Lifer,

For our final issue in this series, as we have been discussing for the last couple days, in the past few weeks voting (especially voting by mail) has become a key issue in the upcoming Presidential Election.

Controversial changes by the United States Postal Service, headed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, have been called into question.

Cries of “voter fraud” from Trump and responses of “voter suppression” from Democrats have put a national spotlight on absentee voting in 2020. 

Because of the mounting pressure, DeJoy formally announced he will suspend the changes he instituted to the U.S. Postal Service until after the November election. 

This means that between now and Election Day, retail hours at post offices will not change, no mail processing facilities will be closed, mail processing equipment and collection boxes will remain in place, and overtime for workers will be approved when needed. 

DeJoy emphasised that the post office will be able to handle the volume of mail expected as many Americans have decided to cast votes by mail due to concerns over COVID-19. 

At least three-quarters of all American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 election — the most in U.S. history, according to a New York Times analysis.

Experts predict that roughly 80 million mail ballots will flood election offices this fall, more than double the number that were returned in 2016. 

Voting by mail is more important than ever – so find out how to make your absentee ballot count today…

Dispelling Any Questions on Absentee Voting

Absentee voting – also known as “mail-in voting” and “by-mail voting” – is conducted by mail-in ballot before Election Day. All states will mail a ballot to voters if certain conditions are met. The voter may return the ballot in person or by mail. Some states will let voters apply for an absentee ballot in person before Election Day and then vote the ballot that same day.

All states allow at least some mail voting, but some will make it more accessible to voters than others.

There are three categories for absentee voting when it comes to state rules:

  • Excuse: Voters in these states will need to provide a valid excuse for not voting on Election Day in order to vote by absentee ballot.
  • No excuse: Any voter in these states can vote by absentee ballot, even if they are able to vote in person on Election Day.
  • Mail-in Only: Voters in these states only need to request an absentee ballot if they need their ballot mailed to a different address.

To find out the absentee rules in your state… read on.

“Excuse” Voting

Here are a few examples of states where voters need a valid excuse for not voting in person on Election day. 

It’s important to note that some states are now allowing fear of COVID-19 as an accepted excuse to get an absentee ballot. 

However, in seven states (New York, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas), voters still need a reason beyond the virus to vote absentee. That means many voters in these states will need to vote in person at a polling place, unless there are any last-minute rule changes.

Alabama is an example of a state that requires one of the excuses listed below, but now is allowing concerns about COVID-19 to stand as a valid excuse. 

You may vote by absentee ballot in Alabama if:

  • You will be absent from the county on Election Day.
  • You are ill or have a physical disability that prevents a trip to the polling place.
  • You are a registered Alabama voter who is temporarily living outside the county (such as a member of the armed forces, a voter employed outside of the United States, a college student, or a spouse or child of such a person).
  • You are an appointed election officer or poll watcher at a polling place other than your regular polling place.
  • You work a required shift – 10 hours or more – that coincides with polling hours.
  • You are a caregiver for a family member who is confined to the home.
  • You are incarcerated but otherwise eligible to vote.

Alabama does not offer early voting. 

However, in a state like New York, where COVID-19 is not being accepted as a valid excuse, you would need to qualify for one of their other excuses:

  • Absent from your county or, if a resident of New York City, absent from New York City, on Election Day
  • Unable to appear at the polls due to illness or physical disability or because you are the primary caregiver of one or more individuals who are ill or physically disabled
  • A resident or patient of a Veterans Health Administration Hospital
  • Detained in jail awaiting Grand Jury action or confined in prison after conviction for an offense other than a felony.

New York does offer early voting from Saturday, October 24, 2020 to Sunday, November 1, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live.

Make sure you check if your state allows COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee. 

“No Excuse” Voting

Below are a few examples of states where any voter is allowed to vote absentee – even if they are physically able to get to the polls on election day.

In 34 states, voters can cite the coronavirus as a reason to vote absentee or they can cast absentee ballots without specifying a reason.

Arizona is an example of a state that has always offered no excuse voting, wherein any registered Arizona voter may apply for an absentee ballot and vote by mail.

However you now have other states like Connecticut where absentee ballot access has expanded due to COVID-19. Now, registered CT voters will automatically be mailed an application for an absentee ballot, whereas before you needed a valid excuse. 

“Mail in Only” Voting

If your state is “mail-in only” that means you will only need to request a ballot if you need your ballot mailed to any location other than the one you used to register to vote. 

In nine states and Washington, D.C., every registered voter will be mailed a ballot ahead of the election. 

For some states, like California, D.C. and Vermont, this will be the first time ballots will automatically be mailed.  

For the 2020 election there are also nine states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico) where every registered voter will automatically be mailed an application to request an absentee ballot. They will still need to return the application to get the ballot, but the application itself will go out automatically. 

It is important to note that many of these changes are temporary and have been made administratively by state and local officials who have the power to make adjustments during emergencies like the pandemic.

That is to say, these rules will be abided by for the 2020 Presidential Election, but going forward there is no guarantee these changes will become permanent. 

Several new pieces of state legislation are also still pending, and experts say more changes could be forthcoming through executive action, litigation or other mechanisms in a few states.

For more information on making sure you’re registered to vote and getting your state’s absentee ballot visit vote.org/absentee-voting-rules.

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team 

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