How to vote early, safely and by mail in all 50 states

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent
·67-min read

There are a variety of ways to vote. Below are all the details you’ll need to do so.

Many voters may want to vote early because they’re worried about the health risks of standing in line on Election Day, but they might also be worried that the U.S. Postal Service won’t deliver a mail-in ballot in time to be counted. There are a few options for you, including — depending on your state — early voting, or drop boxes, or requesting a mail ballot and then turning it in at your local elections office.

You can request a mail ballot that comes to you through the USPS, and if you request it early enough, there shouldn’t be a problem receiving it well ahead of Election Day, which this year falls on Nov. 3.

Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of what the law says you can do to turn in a mail-in/absentee ballot, along with the deadline for your state to register to vote, and deadlines on requesting and turning in mail ballots, which are also in some states described as absentee ballots or by other names. There are links to where you can register, where you can request a mail/absentee ballot, and as much information as we could find to date on early voting and drop boxes.

Remember, the deadlines for turning in mail ballots don’t preclude you from turning in your ballot as soon as you receive it. And with the problems with U.S. mail, and the huge number of mail ballots expected this year, the earlier you turn it in, the better.

Legal references were provided by the Voting Rights Lab.

There’s also information about whether you can give your mail ballot to another person and have them deliver it for you. The law varies a lot from state to state, and there are criminal penalties in some states for running afoul of the law, even unintentionally. So take care to read the legal instructions, which were provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures, and be clear about what is allowed and what is not.

ALABAMA

Ballots can be returned by mail or in-person by the voter. - Ala. Code § 17-11-18(a)

ALASKA

"A ballot can be returned by mail, electronically, or dropped off at the office of the election supervisor or at an absentee voting station. The statutes are generally silent about dropping the ballot off, but they note a ballot is not timely if it is received after the election by any means other than mail. A special needs absentee ballot may be delivered by hand to the election official by the voter or the voter's representative.” - Alaska Stat. § 15.20.081(d), (e); Alaska Stat. § 15.20.045; Alaska Stat. § 15.20.061; Alaska Stat. § 15.20.072(e)

ARIZONA

"A voter may return the ballot by mail, drop it off at any polling place in the county, or bring it to the officer in charge of the election in the voter's jurisdiction.”- Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-548(A)

ARKANSAS

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail. The voter may, either personally or through a third party, return the ballot to the office of the county clerk.” - Ark. Code § 7-5-411

CALIFORNIA

"Ballots may be hand delivered to the elections official who issued it, or to a polling place on Election Day or to mail ballot drop off location, if any exist. Any polling place or drop off location works; the voter need not return the ballot within the voter's county. In a mail ballot election, the ballots may be returned to vote centers, drop off locations, or by mail to the clerk's office.” - Cal. Elec. Code § 3017(a); Cal. Elec. Code § 3025(b); Cal. Code Regs. tit. 2, § 20133; Cal. Elec. Code § 4005; Cal. Elec. Code § 4007

COLORADO

"Voters can mail their ballots, put them in a drop box, bring them to a voter service and polling center, or return them to the office of the county clerk and recorder or the office of the designated election official.” - Colo. Rev. Stat. §1-7.5-107(4)(b)(I)(A)

CONNECTICUT

"A ballot may be mailed by the voter, a designee of an ill or physically disabled voter, or an immediate family member of an applicant who is a student. It also may be returned in person by the voter or the voter's immediate family member at the clerk's office. Finally, the designee of an ill or physically disabled voter may return a ballot in person to the clerk on the voter's behalf.” - Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-140b(a)

DELAWARE

"Voters can return their ballot by mailing the ballot, delivering the ballot, or causing it to be delivered to the Department before the polls close on Election Day.” - Del. Code tit. 15, § 5507(4)

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

"Voters may return an absentee ballot by mail, in person at a voting place, or by delivery to the Board of Elections office.” - D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 3, § 720.12

FLORIDA

"Voters may return their ballot by mail. Alternatively, they may deliver it or have it delivered to any one of the secure drop boxes available at the main office of the supervisor, each branch office of the supervisor, and each early voting site. Drop boxes also may be placed at any site that is eligible to be designated as an early voting site, such as City Hall, a public library, or a civic center, if the site is staffed during the county’s early voting hours of operation by an employee of the supervisor’s office or a sworn law enforcement officer. For voters in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, "supervised voting" may be carried out on-site at the request of the institution or on the supervisor of elections' own initiative. In such cases, the voter may return the voted ballot to the supervised voting team, which delivers the ballots to the supervisor of elections, or retain the ballot and return it on their own.” - Fla. Stat. § 101.69(2); Fla. Stat. § 101.65(9); Fla. Stat. § 101.655(1), (2), (6), (8)

GEORGIA

"Ballots may be delivered by mail or in person.” - Ga. Code § 21-2-385(a)

HAWAII

"Like all vote-by-mail ballots, those received at a temporarily different address may be mailed or dropped off, either to the relevant county clerk at the clerk's office, at a voter service center, and if provided, at ballot place of deposit.” - Haw. Rev. Stat. § 11-104(c); Haw. Rev. Stat. § 15-9(a)

IDAHO

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail. The voter may return the ballot in person to the office of the county clerk. The county clerk must provide at least one "absent electors' polling place" in each county at which voters may mark and return the ballot.” - Idaho Code § 34-1005; Idaho Code § 34-1006

ILLINOIS

"Ballots may be returned by mail, in person by the voter or a person authorized by the voter, or by a licensed delivery service.” - 10 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/19-6

INDIANA

"Ballots may be returned to county election board by mail or in person. Voters who are absentee because of illness or injury or who are caring for a confined person at a private residence within the county and voters with disabilities whose precinct is inaccessible may request the absentee voter board to visit the voter's place of confinement.” - Ind. Code § 3-11-10-24; Ind. Code § 3-11-10-25

IOWA

"Voters may return an absentee ballot by mail or in person to the commissioner's office. The commissioner will also send teams to licensed health care facilities to collect ballots for confined voters.” - Iowa Code § 53.17; Iowa Code § 53.9; Iowa Code § 53.22

KANSAS

"The ballot may be mailed or delivered to the county elections officer. The voter may use a properly designated agent to return their ballot. Special provisions can be made for people confined to nursing homes and similar facilities to facilitate their receiving and casting advance ballots.” - Kan. Stat. § 25-1124(a), (d); Kan. Stat. § 25-1128(g); Kan. Stat. § 25-2812

KENTUCKY

"Kentucky voters may return absentee ballots by mail to the county clerk's office. In-person absentee voting is conducted in the county clerk's office or other place designated by the county board of elections during normal business hours for at least the 12 working days before Election Day. In-person absentee voting may be conducted earlier at the discretion of the county board of elections.” - Ky. Rev. Stat. § 117.086(1); Ky. Rev. Stat. § 117.085(1)(c); _Absentee Voting FAQs_, Commonwealth of Kentucky State Board of Elections,

LOUISIANA

"Voters can return their ballot by mail, a commercial courier, or hand delivery. If hand delivered by someone other than the voter, that person must sign a statement certifying that they have the authorization and consent of the voter. No person other than a voter's immediate family member may hand deliver more than one marked ballot to the registrar. Voters who feel they will not have time to vote by mail may request and return their ballot via fax, provided they sign a waiver of the right to a secret ballot. Hospitalized voters who request electronic delivery of a ballot or who have a family member pick up the ballot may return it by fax (upon signing a waiver) or any of the above methods. Voters with disabilities who request electronic delivery of a ballot may return it by fax (upon signing a waiver) or any of the above methods. The officer of the court in charge of the jury will deliver the ballots of sequestered jurors to the county registrar. Participants in the nursing home early voting program will deposit their voted absentee by mail ballots into a locked box in the possession of the election official who conducts early voting at the facility, unless the registrar opts to conduct nursing home early voting using the general early voting machines and equipment.” - La. Rev. Stat. § 18:1308(A)(1)(b)-(d), (B); La. Rev. Stat. § 18:1307.2(4); La. Rev. Stat. § 18:1308.1(B); La. Rev. Stat. § 18:1333(G)(5), (H)

MAINE

"Ballots may be returned by mail or in person. Absentee ballots may also be cast by residents of licensed residential care facilities at the time designated by the municipal clerk.” - Me. Stat. tit. 21-A, § 754-A; Me. Stat. tit. 21-A, § 753-B(5)

  • You can vote early at your municipal clerk’s office 30 days before the election until the Thursday before the election.

  • Who can handle a mail ballot? “Absentee ballot return by a third person is permitted as long as the third person is not a candidate or a member of a candidate’s immediate family … An absentee ballot may not be issued to a third person who has already been issued five absentee ballots for voters in the municipality until the third person has returned one of those ballots.” - NCSL

  • Track your mail ballot here: https://apps.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/ballot_status.pl

MARYLAND

"Voters may return a completed ballot by mail, or by delivering it or having it delivered to an early voting site, a polling place, or the local board of elections office.” - Md. Code Regs. 33.11.03.06(E); Md. Code Regs. 33.11.03.08(B)

MASSACHUSETTS

"A voter or family members can return ballots in person to their town clerk or by mail.” - Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, § 91B; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, § 92

MICHIGAN

"A voter may return a completed ballot by mail or by using another public postal service, express mail service, parcel post service, or common carrier. The voter also may hand deliver the ballot to the clerk's office. Additionally, a household member or an immediate family member (including a father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandparent, or grandchild) may mail or deliver the ballot for the voter. If a voter is unable return the ballot by mail or in person, they may request that the clerk arrange to collect the ballot from within the jurisdiction. The request must be made by 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.764a

MINNESOTA

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail. The voter may, either personally or through a third party, return the ballot to the office of the county auditor or other election authority. The election official may appoint election judges to travel to/from a health care facility or hospital to deliver/return absentee ballots.” - Minn. Stat. § 203B.08; Minn. Stat. § 203B.11

MISSISSIPPI

"Voters may return ballots by mail.” - Miss. Code § 23-15-637

MISSOURI

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail, in person, or through a relative within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity to the office of the election authority.” - Mo. Rev. Stat. § 115.291(2)

  • ID requirements for in person voting are here: https://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/goVoteMissouri/howtovote#forms

  • Who can handle a mail ballot? “An absentee ballot may be returned in person by a relative of the voter who is within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity.” - NCSL

  • Missouri is one of a handful of states that does not have ballot tracking.

MONTANA

"Voters or their authorized designees may return ballots by mail or by in-person delivery to the election office, a polling place in the voter's county, or in the case of emergency absentee voting, to the absentee election board or authorized election official.” - Mont. Code § 13-13-201(2)(e)

NEBRASKA

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail. The voter may, either personally or through a third party, return the ballot to the office of the county clerk or election commissioner. Election officials may train registered voters to act on official's behalf in administering early voting ballots to residents of nursing homes or hospitals that have requested ballots.” - Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-943; Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-944; Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-947(3)

NEVADA

"A voter may return ballots by mail or the ballot can be delivered to the county clerk.” - Nev. Rev. Stat. § 293.317

NEW HAMPSHIRE

"The ballot may be personally delivered or mailed to the town clerk's office by the voter or their delivery agent.” - N.H. Rev. Stat. § 657:17

NEW JERSEY

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail. The voter may, either personally or through a third party, return the ballot to the county board of elections.” - N.J. Stat. § 19:63-18

NEW MEXICO

"The voter can return the ballot by mail or commercial delivery service, or the voter can return the voted ballot to the county clerk's office or to any polling location in the county in which the voter is registered, including any alternate voting location or mobile alternate voting location established for early voting. To return the ballot at a voting location, the voter must present the official mailing envelope to the presiding judge before the polls close on Election Day. If the clerk establishes secured containers for the deposit of mailed ballots, the voter may use that option as well. A voter's ballot can be returned to the county clerk by an immediate family member (spouse, parent, child, or sibling) or a caregiver. However, all secured containers for ballot return are required to include signage warning voters that only an immediate family member may return a ballot for another voter.” - N.M. Stat. § 1-6-9; N.M. Stat. § 1-12-8.2(A); N.M. Stat. § 1-6-10.1

NEW YORK

"Voters may return ballots by mail or in person to the county board of elections.” - N.Y. Elec. Code § 8-410

NORTH CAROLINA

"Voters may return ballots by mail or commercial courier service, or they may deliver them in person to the county board of elections or to a site for one-stop, in-person absentee voting. A near relative (spouse, brother, sister, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, stepparent, or stepchild.) or legal guardian may also deliver a ballot on a voter's behalf.” - N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-231(b); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-226(f)

NORTH DAKOTA

"Voters may return ballots by mail or in person to the appropriate election officer's office. Ballots returned in person must be returned by 5 p.m. the day before Election Day.” - N.D. Cent. Code § 16.1-07-09

OHIO

"Voters may return ballots by mail or in person to the county board of elections. Ohio also has special procedures for delivering and returning ballots of disabled and confined voters.” - Ohio Rev. Code § 3509.05(A); Ohio Rev. Code § 3509.08

OKLAHOMA

"Voters may return ballots by mail, by private mail service, or in person to the county election board office. Voters in nursing homes or veterans facilities in the county may return their ballots on site to absentee voting board officials. Voters who apply to vote absentee under the special provisions applicable to incapacitated voters and their caregivers must return their ballots by mail or a private mail service.” - Okla. Stat. tit. 26, § 14-108(A); Okla. Stat. tit. 26, § 14-115; Okla. Stat. tit. 26, § 14-110.1; Okla. Stat. tit. 26, § 14-113.2; Okla. Admin. Code § 230:30-11-1(c)

OREGON

"The voter may return a completed ballot by mail. The voter may, either personally or through a third party, return the ballot to the office of the county clerk, a place of deposit, a ballot-marking component, or a voting booth (if one provided).” - Or. Rev. Stat. § 253.070; Or. Rev. Stat. § 254.470(6)(b), (d)

PENNSYLVANIA

"An absentee or mail-in voter may return their ballot by mail or deliver it in person to the county board of election. An authorized representative may return an emergency absentee ballot on a voter's behalf.” - 25 Pa. Stat. § 3146.6(a); 25 Pa. Stat. § 3150.16(a); 25 Pa. Stat. § 3146.2a(a.3)(4)

RHODE ISLAND

"The statute states only that voters must "cause the [ballot] to be delivered" to the state board of elections. The Secretary of State's website indicates that absentee ballots may be returned by mail or hand delivery to the state board of elections.” - R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-23

SOUTH CAROLINA

"Voters may return ballots in person or by mail.” - S.C. Code § 7-15-230

SOUTH DAKOTA

"Voters may return ballots by mail, or by delivering or having the ballot delivered to their county election official. A special procedure can be offered to residents of nursing homes.” - S.D. Codified Laws § 12-19-7; S.D. Codified Laws § 12-19-9.1

TENNESSEE

"Voters must return absentee ballots by mail.” - Tenn. Code § 2-6-202(e)

TEXAS

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, GREG ABBOTT, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of Texas, do hereby suspend Section 85.001(a) of the Texas Election Code to the extent necessary to require that, for any election ordered or authorized to occur on November 3, 2020, early voting by personal appearance shall begin on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, and shall continue through the fourth day before election day. I further suspend Section 86.006(a-1) of the Texas Election Code, for any election ordered or authorized to occur on November 3, 2020, to the extent necessary to allow a voter to deliver a marked mail ballot in person to the early voting clerk’s office prior to and including on election day." - July 27, 2020 executive order

  • Deadline to register to vote is Oct. 5. Register here: https://webservices.sos.state.tx.us/vrapp/index.asp

  • Texas is one of a few states that still requires an excuse to vote by mail, such as being over 65, having a disability or being out of town on Election Day. You can request a mail/absentee ballot by Oct. 23 here: https://webservices.sos.state.tx.us/forms/5-15f.pdf. Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3.

  • Texas currently has one drop box per county. Contact local officials for the location: https://www.sos.texas.gov/elections/voter/county.shtml

  • Early voting at county administrator offices, varying by county, is from Oct. 13-Oct. 30. County election offices are here: https://www.sos.texas.gov/elections/voter/county.shtml

  • ID requirements for in person voting are here: https://www.votetexas.gov/register-to-vote/need-id.html

  • Who can handle a mail ballot? “A person possessing an envelope of another voter does not commit an offense if that person is related to the voter within the second degree by affinity or the third degree by consanguinity; physically living in the same dwelling as the voter; a person who possesses a ballot or carrier envelope solely for the purpose of lawfully assisting a voter who was eligible for assistance; a U.S. postal service employee; or a common or contract carrier … Carrier envelopes may not be collected and stored at another location for subsequent delivery to the early voting clerk.” - NCSL

  • Texas is one of a handful of states that does not have ballot tracking.

UTAH

"Voters may mail in the completed ballot or return the ballot in person to an Election Day voting center or a designated ballot drop box.” - Utah Code § 20A-3a-204 (as enacted by 2020 Utah HB 36; effective date May 12, 2020)

VERMONT

"Ballots may be sent by mail, returned in person to clerk's office, or turned in on Election Day at the polling place.” - Vt. Stat. tit. 17 § 2543(d)

VIRGINIA

"A voter may return a completed absentee ballot by mail. A voter, or in limited circumstances, a third party designated by the voter, may return a completed ballot to the office of the general registrar. The voter may return a completed absentee ballot to the central absentee voter precinct or his/her polling place on Election Day.” - Va. Code § 24.2-709; Va. Code § 24.2-711; Va. Code § 24.2-712

WASHINGTON STATE

"Ballots may be returned by mail, by dropping them off at drop boxes (whether at vote centers, registration sites that are less than vote centers, or standalone drop boxes), or by delivering them to the county auditor's office.” - Wash. Rev. Code § 29A.40.160(4); Wash. Rev. Code § 29A.40.091(4)

WEST VIRGINIA

"Voters may return ballots by mail or hand delivery.” - W. Va. Code § 3-3-5(g), (k)

WISCONSIN

"Absentee ballots issued in person must be voted in person immediately on site. For ballots issued by mail, the statute states only that the ballot "shall be returned" to the clerk.” - Wis. Stat. § 6.87(3)(a), (6)

WYOMING

"Voters may return ballots by mail or in person to their county clerk, either themselves or through an agent. Alternatively, a county may choose to set up an absentee polling place in the courthouse or other public building equipped to accommodate voters from all precincts within the county.” - Wyo. Stat. § 22-9-119; Wyo. Stat. § 22-9-113; Wyo. Stat. § 22-9-125

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