Absentee and Early Voting

Learn about absentee and early voting as alternatives to voting on Election Day. Find out the rules for your state.

Absentee Voting, or Voting by Mail

Absentee voting allows you to vote by mail. Though every state has absentee voting, rules on who can participate vary.

Military and Overseas Voters

Register and Request an Absentee Ballot in One Step

Military and overseas U.S. citizens should use the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to register to vote and to request an absentee ballot. The FCPA lets you start both processes with the single form.

Knowing your voting residence is important to this process.

  • For citizens living outside the U.S., your voting residence is the address in the state where you last resided before leaving the U.S. You can use this address even if:
    • You no longer own property in that state.
    • You’re not sure whether you’re going to return to that state.
    • Your previous address is no longer a recognized residential address.
  • For military members, your voting residence should be within the state listed on your Leave and Earnings Statement. It is not necessarily your home of record.

Submit Your Application As Soon As Possible

Whether you’re in the military or are an overseas U.S. citizen, you should submit your FCPA as soon as possible. If you don’t receive your absentee ballot in time to meet your state’s deadline for returning it, you can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).

Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program to learn more.

Other Citizens: Check With Your State to Vote By Mail or Absentee Ballot

Unless you’re a military or overseas voter, you must start your request for an absentee or vote-by-mail ballot with your state or territorial election office.  Every state’s voting rules are different, including the rules for who can vote by mail and how to obtain an absentee or mail-in ballot.

  • To begin, visit your state or territorial election office website and look for “Absentee Voting” or “Voting By Mail.” If you don’t see either term quickly, try using the site’s search tool.

  • Your state may require you to have a valid excuse to vote absentee. Acceptable excuses vary by state. However, most include:
    • Having an illness, injury, or disability that prevents you from getting to your designated polling place
    • Being on business travel or vacation outside of your county or city of residence on Election Day
    • Being a student at an out-of-state college or university
  • This National Conference of State Legislatures table shows which states require an excuse.

  • Follow your state’s instructions for requesting an absentee or vote-by-mail ballot online or by mail.

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Early Voting and In-Person Absentee Voting

Sometimes circumstances might make it difficult or impossible for you to vote on Election Day, but your state may allow you to cast your ballot during a designated early voting period.

  • The majority of states have early voting, which allows registered voters to vote on specified dates prior to Election Day.

  • States with early voting do not require voters to submit an excuse explaining why they need to vote early.

  • A few states don’t have early voting, but do have in-person absentee voting, which may allow you to cast your vote early as well. But in-person absentee voting will require you to obtain an absentee ballot, and may require an excuse accepted by your state.

Time Frames for Early Voting and In-Person Absentee Voting

This early voting chart lists time frames for those states that offer early voting. 

The best place to check your state's early voting or in-person absentee voting procedures is your state/territorial election office website.

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Last Updated: February 07, 2017

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