Voting by Mail or Absentee Voting:
A Guide for Older Americans
How to Vote By Mail or Absentee in All 50 States

Last Updated: Dec 6, 2021

In recent years, states have made various voting-by-mail options available to citizens who wish to avoid health risks, such as COVID-19 contraction, while also preserving their ability to vote. In some instances, in-person voting health safeguards (such as social distancing or wearing masks) may not be enough to protect at-risk populations like older adults or those with health conditions.

Despite the positive intentions of increased voting options, many questions still remain about which states allow voting by mail, how mail balloting works, the security of mail-in voting, and the difference between absentee balloting and voting by mail.

This guide explains what seniors need to know about voting by mail in their state as well as the steps they might need to take in order to securely vote by mail.

Table of Contents

  1. The Three General Types of Voting by Mail
  2. Guidelines for Getting Absentee Ballots
  3. Absentee Request Deadlines by State
  4. A Reminder to Request Your Ballot Early
  5. Universal By-Mail States
  6. The History of Voting by Mail
  7. Additional Resources
  8. 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:

  1. Absentee ballot: You must request an absentee ballot and choose from a list of accepted “excuses” (or reasons) to not vote in person. In some states, being 65 or older is a valid reason on its own, while a few states offer “advanced age” with no age specified. Some states don't allow age by itself to be sufficient to voter absentee, but seniors might qualify under a reason such as illness or disability.
  2. No-excuse absentee: You can vote by mail without having to give any reason for your in-person absence. Many states already offer no-excuse absentee ballots.
  3. Universal vote by mail (also called “vote at home”): Registered voters in the state have the ability to vote by mail for every election (in-person voting may be available, too). Even before the COVID-19 global health crisis, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii voted by mail. If you live in one of these states, your ballot is automatically mailed to you.

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.

Absentee Request Deadlines by State

  • 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.

The table below lists “Yes,” “Probably,” and “Maybe,” answers as to whether seniors can vote by mail.

“Yes” means that ALL seniors who want to vote by mail will be able to.

“Maybe” means it may be up to the discretion of officials in your state.

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 some loosened their rules in 2020.

The following information is valid as of late 2021. It's possible (likely, even) that regulations in some states could change due to legislation, court decisions and increased/decreased global health risks.

State Can People Aged 65+ Vote by Mail? Things to Know Where to Get By-Mail Ballots Absentee voting deadline
Alabama Maybe Alabama normally requires justification for absentee ballots. Being a senior citizen isn't an accepted reason, but physical illnesses and disabilities resulting from advanced age are. Some older Alabama residents may qualify under these conditions. Alabama absentee voting information Ballots postmarked 1 day before Election Day, received by noon on Election Day.

Postmarked 1 day before Election Day, received by noon on Election Day.

Alaska Yes Alaska allows no-excuse absentee voting. Alaska absentee voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received 10 days after Election Day.
Arizona Yes Arizona allows no-excuse absentee voting. Arizona absentee voting information Received by 7pm on Election Day.
Arkansas No Arkansas requires justification for absentee ballots, and older age is not one of the accepted reasons. Arkansas absentee voting information Received by 7:30pm on Election Day.
California Yes California allows no-excuse vote-by-mail for all registered voters. California vote-by-mail information Postmarked by Election Day and received no later than 7 days after the election.
Colorado Yes The state does universal by-mail voting. Colorado by-mail voting information Received by 7pm on Election Day.
Connecticut No Connecticut requires justification for absentee ballots, and older age is not one of them. However, physical disability and illness are valid reasons for being able to vote absentee in Connecticut. Connecticut absentee voting information Received Election Day.
Delaware No Delaware requires justification to vote absentee, and advanced age isn't a valid reason for absentee voting. Delaware absentee voting information Received Election Day.
District of Columbia Yes D.C. allows no-excuse absentee voting. D.C. absentee voting information Postmarked on or before Election Day and received no later than 10 days after Election Day.
Florida Yes Florida allows no-excuse vote-by-mail. Florida vote-by-mail information Received by 7pm on Election Day.
Georgia Yes Georgia allows no-excuse absentee voting. Georgia absentee voting information Received by the time the polls close on Election Day.
Hawaii Yes The state already does universal by-mail voting. Hawaii vote- by-mail information Received by 7pm on Election Day.
Idaho Yes Idaho allows no-excuse absentee voting. Idaho absentee ballot information Received by 8pm Election Day.
Illinois Yes Illinois allows no-excuse absentee voting. If you voted in the 2020 primary, the 2019 municipal elections or the 2018 general election, you will automatically get a mail ballot.1 Illinois absentee ballot information Postmarked by Election Day and received by 14 days after Election Day.
Indiana Yes Indiana requires an excuse for absentee voting, and being aged 65 and over is a valid reason to vote absentee. Indiana absentee ballot information Voted ballots are due by noon on Election Day.
Iowa Yes Iowa allows no-excuse absentee voting. There are no special eligibility requirements for voting absentees. Iowa absentee ballot information Received before close of polls on Election Day.
Kansas  

Yes

Kansas allows no-excuse absentee voting. Any registered voter in Kansas can vote early either by mail or in person. Kansas absentee and advanced voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received 3 days after Election Day.
Kentucky Maybe Kentucky allows vote-by-mail, but requires an excuse. In the past, advanced age was an accepted reason to vote absentee. Your county clerk will be able to confirm if you are eligible. Find your Kentucky county clerk Received by 6pm Election Day.
Louisiana  

Yes

Louisiana requires a reason for absentee voting, and being 65 years of age is one of these reasons. Louisiana absentee voting information Received by 4:30pm, 1 day before Election Day (most voters). Election Day (hospitalized voters).
Maine Yes Maine allows no-excuse absentee voting. Maine absentee voting information Maine allows no-excuse absentee voting.
Maryland Yes Maryland allows no-excuse mail-in voting Maryland vote-by-mail information Postmarked on or before Election Day and received by 10am, 10 days after Election Day.
Massachusetts Maybe Massachusetts ordinarily requires a reason to vote absentee, but under a state law passed in July 2021, voting by mail will be completely allowed in all local and state elections through the day of December 15, 2021.

If Massachusetts reinstates its pre-pandemic requirements for absentee ballots after December 15th, 2021, the three accepted reasons to vote absentee are:

· Physical disability

· Religious belief

· Out of town on Election Day

Massachusetts absentee voting information Received Election Day.
Michigan Yes Michigan now allows no-excuse absentee voting. Michigan absentee voting information Received by the time the polls close on Election Day.
Minnesota Yes Minnesota allows no-excuse mail voting, and you do not have to be registered to request your ballot. Minnesota vote-by-mail information Received by 8pm on Election Day if by mail or received by 3pm on Election Day if they are hand-delivered to a drop box or elections office.
Mississippi Yes Mississippi requires a reason for absentee voting, but being 65 or older is one of these reasons. Mississippi absentee voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received within 5 business days of Election Day (by mail); Received 3 days before Election Day (in person).
Missouri Maybe Missouri requires a reason to vote absentee. But in 2020, , people could vote absentee if they were sick with the coronavirus or at risk of getting sick, including being 65 or older.

 

Check with the state election website to see if state laws still allow expanded mail-in voting due to COVID-19.

Missouri absentee voting information Received Election Day by closing of the polls (7pm).
Montana Yes Montana allows no-excuse absentee voting. Montana absentee voting information Received by 8pm on Election Day.
Nebraska Yes Nebraska allows no-excuse absentee voting. Nebraska early voting information Received Election Day.
Nevada Yes Nevada allows no-excuse absentee voting. Nevada absentee voting information Postmarked on or before Election Day.
New Hampshire No New Hampshire requires an excuse to vote absentee. The normal reasons include disability but not age. New Hampshire absentee voting information Received by 5pm Election Day.
New Jersey Yes New Jersey allows no-excuse absentee voting. New Jersey absentee voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received 144 hours after polls close.
New Mexico Yes New Mexico allows no-excuse absentee voting. New Mexico absentee voting information Received by 7pm Election Day.
New York Maybe New York requires a reason to vote absentee. However, voters concerned about illnesses like COVID-19 may cite “temporary illness” as their reason for voting absentee. New York absentee voting information Postmarked on Election Day and received 7 days after Election Day. Voted ballots can also be turned in by hand on election day.
North Carolina Yes North Carolina allows no-excuse absentee voting. North Carolina absentee voting information If by mail, postmarked by Election Day and received by 5pm no later than 9 days after Election Day.
North Dakota Yes North Dakota allows no-excuse absentee voting North Dakota absentee voting information Postmarked 1 day before Election Day.
Ohio Yes Ohio allows no-excuse absentee voting. Ohio absentee voting information Postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received no later than 10 days after Election Day, or delivered in person on Election Day.
Oklahoma Yes Oklahoma allows no-excuse absentee voting. Oklahoma absentee voting information Received by 7pm on Election Day.
Oregon Yes Oregon allows no-excuse absentee voting. Oregon by-mail voting information Received by 8pm on Election Day.
Pennsylvania Yes Any voter may choose to vote-by-mail in Pennsylvania Pennsylvania by-mail voting information If mailed, postmarked by Election Day and received within 3 days after Election Day
Rhode Island Yes Rhode Island allows no-excuse mail voting, and voters may either give a reason or excuse or cite “No specific reason.” Rhode Island mail voting information Received by 8PM on Election Day.
South Carolina Yes South Carolina requires a reason to vote absentee. Being 65 or older is an acceptable one. South Carolina absentee voting information Received by 7pm on Election Day.
South Dakota Yes South Dakota allows no-excuse absentee voting. South Dakota absentee voting information Received Election Day.
Tennessee Yes Tennessee normally requires a reason to vote absentee. Being 60 or older qualifies as a valid justification. Tennessee absentee voting information Received Election Day.
Texas Yes Texas mandates that people provide justification to vote early by mail. Being 65 or older is acceptable justification. Texas by-mail voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received by the day after Election Day.
Utah Yes Utah does universal vote by mail. Utah vote-by-mail information If mailed, postmarked 1 day before Election Day and received before noon on the day of the county canvass.
Vermont Yes Vermont allows no-excuse absentee voting. Vermont absentee and early voting information Received Election Day.
Virginia Yes Virginia allows no-excuse absentee voting. You must have a witness signature on your ballot for it to be counted. Virginia absentee voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received by noon 3 days after Election Day.
Washington Yes Washington already offers universal vote by mail. Washington by-mail voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received 5 days after Election Day.
West Virginia Maybe West Virginia requires a reason for absentee voting. Immobility due to advanced age is an accepted reason, however no age limit is specified.. West Virginia absentee voting information Postmarked by Election Day and received by 6 days after Election Day. (Ballots with no postmark will be counted if received by 1 day after Election Day.)
Wisconsin Yes Wisconsin allows no-excuse absentee voting. Wisconsin absentee voting information Received by 8pm on Election Day.
Wyoming Yes Wyoming allows no-excuse absentee voting. Wyoming absentee voting information Received by 7pm on Election Day.

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

  • In Nebraska and North Dakota, each county may choose if their elections will be held entirely by mail.
  • 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. Nearly 80 percent voted for Abraham Lincoln.4
  • In the 1944 presidential election, members of the military cast about 3.2 million absentee ballots, helping Franklin Delano Roosevelt win his fourth term. Every state had laws allowing soldiers to vote remotely.5
  • 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.6
  • In some states, the COVID-19 pandemic led officials to send out mail-in ballots to each of their citizens. This increases voter turnout by an average of 4 percent. In the 2020 election, and during the COVID-19, this turnout resulted in even higher turnout rates for certain states.7
  • 54% of voters voted in-person for the 2020 presidential election, while 46% voted by absentee or mail-in ballot.8

Additional Resources

Election Official Directory & State Voting: Requirements & Information from the U.S. Vote Foundation

Absentee ballot request and submission deadlines from Vote.org
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
  6. https://www.history.com/news/vote-by-mail-soldiers-war
  7. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/how-do-you-know-voting-mail-works-u-s-military-n1186926
  8. https://www.reuters.com/world/california-becomes-8th-us-state-make-universal-mail-in-ballots-permanent-2021-09-28/
  9. https://www.ppic.org/publication/vote-by-mail-and-voter-turnout-in-the-pandemic-election
  10. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/11/20/the-voting-experience-in-2020