As the United States Postal Service faces a financial crisis and nationwide in-person voting seems less and less likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters around the country are concerned that their votes will be compromised. But absentee ballots do not need to be returned through the mail — there are several other options to make sure your ballot arrives on time.
President Trump requested an absentee ballot himself, but his positions on funding USPS and voting-by-mail have been inconsistent. And on Friday, USPS warned 41 states that it may not be able to deliver all mail-in ballots on time.
According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, casting a ballot using a voting machine at a polling place has declined steadily in popularity over the last several election cycles, with more voters choosing early voting, absentee voting and vote-by-mail. More than 50% of voters in 16 states cast their votes in one of these ways in 2016.
USPS is the only way to receive an absentee or mail-in ballot in most states. However, there are many ways to vote by mail that do not involve returning your ballots through USPS.
“In the states where election officials mail ballots to all registered voters, recent data shows the majority of those voters do not return their ballots in the mail,” a 2017 EAC report stated. “They either drop them off at designated locations or at drop boxes.”
Click here for up-to-date information on voting in your state during the pandemic.
In-Person Early Voting
Forty states and the District of Columbia have some form of early voting in place, allowing voters to cast their ballot in person while avoiding crowds. Some states have even extended early voting due to the pandemic.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website has information on early voting by state.
Local Election Office or Polling Location
Almost all states allow voters to deliver their ballots in person at their local election office. To find a list of local election offices, you can search your state Board of Elections website or Secretary of State website.
However, many voters may not live close enough to return their ballot to a location election office. In this case, they may be able to instead return it to an alternative location.
According to the NCSL, eleven states and Washington D.C. allow voters to drop off ballots at any in-person voting locations in the county, including Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Two states, New Hampshire and Vermont, allow voters to return their ballots to a polling place. In these cases, a voter must return their ballot to their assigned precinct polling place on Election Day.
Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia allow someone else to return ballots on behalf of voters. Communities can designate a single person to collect ballots for the community, keeping voters with higher risks of contracting coronavirus safe in their homes.
Ten states permit an absentee ballot to be returned by the voter’s family member: Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma.
In some states, the number of ballots a single person can collect may be limited. Check the NCSL website for details on ballot collection in each state.
Remember to wear a mask and maintain social distancing when delivering your ballot in person.
USPS says it may not meet mail-in voting dead…
Drop boxes — special containers for voters to drop off absentee ballots in sealed envelopes — have become more commonplace in the last decade, and are an efficient and secure way to return your ballot while entirely skipping the mail process. Those monitored by surveillance cameras are often available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, while others that are monitored by election workers have specified hours of operation.
Boxes are often placed in convenient and accessible locations, including city or county office buildings, libraries, college campuses, community centers and along public transit routes.
Eleven states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington — have ballot drop boxes set up in some or all counties, NCSL says.
The EAC recommends counties install one drop box for every 15,000 to 20,000 registered voters. It also advises that officials make the locations of these drop boxes publicly known 80 days before an election — which is Saturday, August 15.
The number of drop boxes varies widely by state. Michigan says that it has nearly 1,000 drop boxes ready to go ahead of the election, and Connecticut recently installed around 200 drop boxes just one month before its primary election.
But Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose said this week that he is banning counties from adding any more drop boxes, saying its too close to the election to make new changes. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said his state does not allow drop boxes for fear voters may feel pressured by peers to vote a certain way.
In June, President Trump and the RNC sued election officials in Pennsylvania to prevent the state from using drop boxes. This week, a federal judge ordered them to provide evidence of vote-by-mail fraud in the state.
Typically, election officials need to receive absentee/mailed ballots by the time polls close on Election Day, November 3. Some states accept ballots received after this date if they were postmarked before the election.
Check with your local election office to figure out which option is best for you.