Seniors and the 2020 Election:
How to Vote By Mail or Absentee in all 50 States
Guidelines, Deadlines and State-by-State Information

Last Updated: July 16, 2020

Because of COVID-19, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding upcoming elections, especially the November 3 presidential election. Some states have already decided to emphasize voting by mail. In-person voting safeguards such as social distancing and masking may not be strong enough, especially for seniors and other higher-risk populations. This guide explains what seniors need to know about voting by mail in their state. It also explains certain steps they might need to take.

Table of Contents

  1. The Three General Types of Voting by Mail
  2. Guidelines for Getting Absentee Ballots
  3. The Six States that Could Present Problems for Seniors
  4. Absentee Request Deadlines by State
  5. Table 1: Seniors and Voting by Mail in the November 2020 Presidential Election
  6. A Reminder to Request Your Ballot Early
  7. Universal By-Mail States
  8. The History of Voting by Mail
  9. Additional Resources
  10. References and Footnotes

The Three General Types of Voting by Mail

Voting by mail is also called by-mail voting, and there are three basic types:

Guidelines for Getting Absentee Ballots

If you request an absentee ballot, keep two important things in mind:

  1. The next election in your state might be a primary, not the presidential election. Review your absentee ballot application to ensure you’re requesting for the correct election. You might be able to request for both elections at the same time, depending on the state.
  2. Follow the deadlines for absentee ballot applications and for the absentee ballots themselves. They may be waived or extended if the pandemic worsens, but check for deadlines and updates with this tool from the U.S. Vote Foundation. The earlier you turn in applications and ballots, the better. Some states had a rough time with the influx of absentee ballots during their primaries. Not all ballots got mailed or counted.

The Six States that Could Present Problems for Seniors

For the 2020 presidential election, seniors in these six states might have the most trouble or confusion casting an absentee ballot:






For example, legal challenges in Texas to expand absentee voting during COVID-19 have not succeeded (as of mid-June). Texas does allow seniors 65 or older to vote absentee in any circumstances, but some seniors are younger. Mixed messages abound. Some officials say fear of the virus isn’t a good-enough reason to vote absentee, while others say it’s up to the voters. An official in the latter camp is Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. She said to The Austin Bulldog, “Choosing to vote by mail is entirely the prerogative and the right of the voter. People can take their health history into consideration and if they believe voting in person is likely to injure their health they can vote by mail.”1

Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton basically says, “Nope!” He has told local elections officials again and again not to mislead voters that they can claim “disability” to vote absentee over coronavirus fears.2 Time will tell what happens in Texas, but younger seniors who want to cover all of their bases to avoid legal trouble can seek medical advice. Officially obtaining medical “permission” to vote absentee may calm seniors’ anxieties about running afoul of the law. Your doctor can also discuss how to best protect yourself if you must vote in person.

In Alabama, being older isn’t an accepted reason at all to vote absentee. However, the state loosened regulations for its primary election to make room for COVID-19 concerns. It could happen again in November but is not a guarantee. If you live in one of the six states listed above, it’s even more important that you do these things:

  • Look over the entry for your state in the table below. You might qualify to vote absentee even in normal circumstances, depending on your age and state regulations.
  • Monitor the coronavirus situation in your state, especially as the election gets closer.
  • Keep an eye on state election changes. If officials deem the situation risky enough, they may include COVID-19 concerns as a valid reason to vote absentee.
  • Get advice from a medical professional on voting absentee under a category such as “ill” or “disabled.” This may not strictly be necessary. However, it’s helpful if you want peace of mind that you’re following voting rules. All medical professionals should be on board with your attempts to stay healthy. If nothing else, they can advise you on staying safe if you must vote in person.

Table 1 below lists “Yes,” “Probably,” and “Maybe,” answers as to whether seniors can vote by mail in November. “Yes” means that ALL seniors who want to vote by mail will be able to. “Probably” means that most, perhaps even all, can, but it’s early days yet.

“Maybe” means it’s definitely too early to tell. In a “Maybe,” state, some seniors might still easily qualify. For example, if you’re 65 or older in Texas, you qualify. Other “Maybe” states don’t let seniors vote absentee just because they’re older but loosened their rules for the primaries. They have yet to do so for November’s election but could eventually end up doing just that.

Absentee Request Deadlines by State

State Primary Absentee Request Deadline General Election Absentee Request Deadline
Alabama July 9, July 30 and August 27 (there are 3 primaries) October 29
Alaska August 8, August 17 (online/fax ballot) October 26, November 2 (online/fax ballot)
American Samoa none October 19
Arizona July 24 October 30
Arkansas none October 27, Nov 2 (in-person request)
California none October 27
Colorado universal vote by mail state universal vote by mail state
Connecticut August 10 November 2
Delaware July 6, September 14 (there are 2 primaries) November 2
District of Columbia none October 27
Florida August 8, August 15 (in-person) October 24, October 31 (in-person request)
Georgia August 7 October 30
Guam August 26 October 30
Hawaii universal vote by mail state universal vote by mail state
Idaho none October 21
Illinois none October 29, November 2 (in-person request)
Indiana none October 22, November 2 (in-person request)
Iowa none October 30
Kansas July 28 October 30
Kentucky none October 27
Louisiana August 11 (municipal general election) October 30
Maine passed (July 14) October 31
Maryland none October 27 (postal), October 30 (online), November 3 (in-person)
Massachusetts August 26 October 28
Michigan July 31, August 3 (in-person) October 30
Minnesota August 11 (municipal general election) November 3
Mississippi none No Deadline
Missouri July 22, August 3 (in-person) October 21
Montana none November 2
Nebraska none October 23
Nevada none October 27
New Hampshire September 7 November 2
New Jersey June 30, July 6 (in-person) October 27, Nov 2 (in-person)
New Mexico none October 30, October 29 (online)
New York none October 27, Nov 2 (in-person)
North Carolina none October 27
North Dakota none November 2
Ohio none October 31
Oklahoma August 18 October 28
Oregon universal vote by mail state universal vote by mail state
Pennsylvania none October 27
Puerto Rico no info given no info given
Rhode Island August 18 October 16
South Carolina none October 30
South Dakota none November 2
Tennessee July 30 October 27
Texas passed (July 3) October 23
Utah universal vote by mail state universal vote by mail state
Vermont August 10 November 2
Virgin Islands July 21 October 14
Virginia none October 27, October 31 (in-person)
Washington universal vote by mail state universal vote by mail state
West Virginia none October 28
Wisconsin August 6 (postal), August 7 (military, confined) October 29 (postal), October 30 (military, in-person, confined)
Wyoming no deadline – primary is August 18 no deadline

Table 1: Seniors and Voting by Mail in the November 2020 Presidential Election

The following information is valid as of mid-June 2020. It’s possible (likely, even) that regulations in some states could change due to legislation, court decisions and increased/decreased coronavirus risk.


See absentee request deadlines by state.

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See absentee request deadlines by state.

A Reminder to Request Your Ballot Early

Some states holding primaries during pandemic stay-at-home orders struggled to mail enough absentee ballots in time. For example, in Wisconsin, more than 9,000 voters never received the absentee ballots they requested.3
Seniors who don’t receive absentee ballots in time may feel compelled to vote in person and put their health at risk. Check your state’s relevant elections website and request your ballot well in advance of the election.

Universal By-Mail States

If you’re a new resident of Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado or Hawaii, here’s a quick primer on how universal vote-by-mail ballots work.4

  • Voters have election periods, not a single election day. They may have two weeks or even longer to make their selections.
  • Thanks to this extended voting period, election officials can spread out the counting and processing of ballots. There is more time to catch and fix potential mistakes, especially compared with in-person woes such as long polling lines, malfunctioning voting machines and absent workers.
  • Registered voters receive their ballot in the mail. If they don’t get a ballot, they contact their county auditor’s office or other relevant election office to request one. In many cases, it’s possible to register to vote on the same day as the election.
  • Voters mark their ballot and insert it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve.
  • Voters place the ballot and envelope (or sleeve) in a mailing envelope. They sign an affidavit on the outside of the mailing envelope.
  • Voters return the mailing envelope via mail, drop it off in person or leave it in a designated drop-off location.
  • Election officials use signature verification, among other methods, to ensure the legitimacy of ballots.
  • Bipartisan teams can work together to mail, receive, process and count ballots.

The History of Voting by Mail

By-mail voting is steeped in U.S. history, especially military history.5

  • In the Civil War, about 150,000 (out of 1 million Union troops) voted absentee in the 1864 presidential election.
  • In the 1944 presidential election, members of the military cast about 3.2 million absentee ballots. This constituted almost 7% of all votes cast, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt won his fourth term. Every state had laws allowing soldiers to vote remotely.
  • At the beginning of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began to seriously affect the United States, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii let registered voters in their state vote entirely by mail.

Additional Resources

Election Official Directory & State Voting: Requirements & Information from the U.S. Vote Foundation
All-Mail Elections: Advantages, Disadvantages and More
State Laws Governing Early Voting: From the National Conference of State Legislatures

References and Footnotes

  1. Martin, K. (2020, June 15). You Can Vote by Mail Despite Texas AG's Warning. The Austin Bulldog. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://theaustinbulldog.org/you-can-vote-by-mail-despite-texas-ags-warning/
  2. Anderson, E. (2020, June 12). Texas AG Warns Again: Don't Mislead About Vote-by-Mail Laws. Texas Scorecard. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://texasscorecard.com/state/texas-ag-warns-again-dont-mislead-about-vote-by-mail-laws/
  3. Corasaniti, N., and Saul, S. (2020, April 09). Inside Wisconsin's Election Mess: Thousands of Missing or Nullified Ballots. The New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/us/politics/wisconsin-election-absentee-coronavirus.html
  4. Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options. (2020, June 9). National Conference of State Legislatures. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx
  5. Seitz-Wald, A. (2020, April 19). How Do You Know Voting by Mail Works? The U.S. Military’s Done It Since the Civil War. NBC News. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/how-do-you-know-voting-mail-works-u-s-military-n1186926