What is an absentee ballot?

What is an absentee ballot?

Absentee voting is an option for voters who are unable to physically vote at polling stations. This alternative is ideal for registered voters who are ill or disabled, traveling, away at school, serving in the military or otherwise outside of their voting residence. Voting absentee is also available for citizens who cannot be present at polling locations due to work obligations or religious holidays.

Absentee ballots are available in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia as well as the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Absentee voting is also available for registered voters and military personnel living outside of the United States of America. Absentee ballots are available for U.S. citizens older than 18 years of age who will be outside of their voting jurisdiction.

Each state and area has different deadlines and rules for how to vote absentee. Some states require an excuse for absentee voting as part of the application process. The most important factor in absentee voting is submitting or mailing your vote by the region’s deadline and in accordance with the rules and regulations. For absentee voters submitting ballots by mail, particularly those voting absentee overseas, allow for ample time for postal delivery. Delivery of absentee ballots at a local polling station is also an option. Find out more about where to vote absentee and other important topics in the sections below:

  • Obtain an absentee ballot
  • How to vote when traveling
  • Voting outside of the United States
  • Voting in the military
  • Absentee voting for the sick and disabled
  • The difference between absentee voting and early voting

How to Get an Absentee Ballot

To start the application process for absentee voting, U.S. citizens must first register to vote. During and after voter registration, citizens can request a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Many states have deadlines, rules and requirements for FPCAs. These absentee ballot applications are required every year and after each change in address. After completion, mail the FPCA to the county election office for approval. Absentee ballots, along with special envelopes and instructions, are sent via mail to approved voters. Complete and send a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot if you have not received a state ballot. A designated individual can also deliver absentee ballots to polling locations.  

How to Vote When Traveling

Absentee voting is an opportunity for citizens who will be outside of their voting jurisdiction on Election Day. To vote out of town, check the state’s application deadlines and request an absentee ballot. Voting absentee is the best way to have your vote count when you are unable to physically vote at a polling station. Many states allow absentee voters to mail their ballots early during designated periods. Absentee voting is available in certain states for:

  • Presidential primaries.
  • State primaries.
  • State primary runoffs.
  • General elections.
  • General runoffs.

Voting Outside of the United States

Absentee ballots have been available since Congress enacted the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) in 1986. Absentee voting is accessible for any U.S. citizen older than 18 years of age who is living outside his or her voting jurisdiction. Non-military individuals can request an FPCA online, by mail or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens who have never resided in the country can still apply if their parent or legal guardian lived in an eligible state. 

About Voting in the Military

Absentee voting is available for military personnel, their qualified spouses and their dependents. Members of the military can request an absentee ballot by completing and submitting an FPCA. For additional information about how to vote absentee, personnel can seek aid from their military installations. UOCAVA applies to military voters in the:

  • Air Force.
  • Army.
  • Coast Guard.
  • Marine Corps.
  • Navy.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps.
  • Public Health Service.

About Absentee Voting for the Sick and Disabled

Voters with disabilities, illnesses or injuries that prevent them from attending polling can apply for an absentee ballot. Absentee voters may designate a person to assist in delivering a completed ballot to polling locations in person or by mail. Though each state and region has specific approval guidelines for voting absentee, some regions allow citizens to be permanent absentee voters. In select states, permanent absentee voting is available for voters who live in remote areas or have a permanent disability or illness.

The Difference Between Absentee Voting and Early Voting

Similar to absentee ballots, early voting is an option for voters unable to vote traditionally at polls on Election Day. During designated early voting periods, registered voters can vote at local election offices and satellite locations. Absentee voting is required for those residing in states that do not allow for early voting.