With the coronavirus pandemic threatening to disrupt in-person voting, election experts have urged Congress to mandate that every state make it easier to vote by mail and provide funding for it—and have asked state governments to take immediate action to expand access to mail voting in case Congress won’t.
While most states allow voters to request an absentee ballot for any reason, the states below still require a particular excuse to cast a mail ballot for the Nov. 2020 general elections, as shown on the map at the top of this story (see here for a larger version):
- New York
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Some of these states have recently taken steps to allow concern over coronavirus to count as a valid excuse to request an absentee ballot for upcoming primaries and local elections. They’ll need to do the same for the November general election, though it would be even better to eliminate the excuse requirement altogether.
The ideal approach, however, would be for every state to enact universal voting by mail, meaning that every voter would automatically be sent a ballot that they can then return by mail. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah—have already adopted all-mail voting, while a sixth, California, is transitioning to such a system. Voters can still cast ballots in person if they prefer, but the results in all of the states that have already gone in this direction show that nearly everyone ends up voting by mail.
Other related measures—such as prepaid postage on mail ballots; provideing an ample number of dropboxes for voters to return ballots in person; and counting ballots as long as they're postmarked by Election Day—would help make it even easier to vote and ensure that all votes count.
- Massachusetts requires an excuse for traditional absentee voting. However, under the state’s early voting system, voters may cast early votes by mail without an excuse in biennial general elections. This system was recently extended to apply to all local elections held through June 30, 2020 but has not yet been extended to the state’s Sept. 1 primary.
- New Hampshire has waived its excuse requirement to vote absentee in the Nov. 2020 general elections.
- Rhode Island formally requires an excuse to vote absentee, but any excuse is permitted.