Everything You Need To Know If You're Voting Absentee For The First Time

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Just because you can't physically be in the place where you're registered to vote on Election Day, that doesn't mean you can't cast a ballot. Thanks to absentee voting, you can have a ballot sent to wherever it is you're living, whether that's in the U.S. or abroad. To prepare you for that process, here's everything you need to know if you're voting absentee for the first time.

There's one important difference between absentee and in-person voting: you don't get an "I Voted" sticker. Otherwise, the process is essentially the same — you do your research, get your ballot, fill it out, and then turn it in. There's a bit more bureaucracy involved, because you have to inform your voting district that you would like to have it sent to you — but even that can be done very quickly and easily with resources like Vote.Org if you're voting absentee from elsewhere in the U.S., or the Overseas Vote Foundation if you'd like to have a ballot sent abroad.

The rules for requesting and sending in absentee ballots depend on which state you're registered in, but one thing is for sure across all states — if you send it in on time, your absentee will be counted.


Can I Still Get An Absentee Ballot?

If you're hoping to vote absentee in the 2018 midterms and you still haven't requested an absentee ballot, there's a possibility that you've missed your chance in this election. Still, check Vote.Org and find your state's absentee ballot request form there, because it depends on the state. In Wisconsin, for example, you have until the Thursday before the election to request a ballot. In the District of Columbia, however, you must have requested it at least a week in advance — so Tuesday, Oct. 30 is your last chance.

Different states also have different requirements for whether or not you have to give a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, and if so, what you have to prove in doing so. D.C. doesn't ask about any of that, but Virginia, for example, has a whole list of reasons why you can't vote in person, along with the proof you must provide for each one.


When Is The Last Day To Mail In An Absentee Ballot?

Read carefully through your state's absentee ballot guidelines on Vote.Org to get the answer to this one, because, again, it depends on the state. To vote absentee in North Carolina, for example, your ballot must be postmarked by Election Day at the latest, and received by three days after Election Day. In Texas, though, it has to be postmarked by Election Day and received by the next day. If you're voting from abroad and you still haven't mailed in your ballot, it might be time to turn to UPS or a similar express mail service.


Does My Absentee Ballot Need A Stamp?

Technically, your absentee ballot does need a stamp — but it also doesn't, according to Time. If you're mailing it from within the U.S., then the official policy of the U.S. Postal Service is to deliver mailed absentee ballots with or without postage, but they emphasize that voters should put postage on the envelope just the same. And if you're mailing it in from abroad, then there's no wiggle room — postal services in other countries will not hesitate to throw your absentee ballot away if you haven't attached the proper international postage.


Is It Better To Drop My Ballot Off At A Polling Place Or Mail It In?

This is an easy one — neither is better! They both work, of course depending on timing. As long as the office receives your ballot in time, it counts just the same. If you vote absentee in-person, though, you might have a chance at getting an I Voted sticker.


What Does An Absentee Ballot Look Like?

If you know what a in-person ballot looks like, then you know what an absentee ballot looks like. If you requested it to be emailed to you, then you'll probably be printing it off to fill out on different paper then you'd get at a polling location, but otherwise it'll be the exact same: all of the candidates listed, with spots to mark which candidate you've chosen.


How Does An Absentee Ballot Work?

Even though the rules and deadlines for voting absentee can be slightly more complicated than just showing up on Election Day and voting, it's really all the same process. You choose who you want to govern at the local, state, and federal levels, you fill in your choices on a ballot, and then your district office counts your vote as a part of determining which candidate wins each race. Sure, there are urban legends that absentee ballots don't count, but those are entirely false. As long as you follow your state's absentee voting rules and submit everything on time, your vote will be counted along with every other vote received.

After you've requested and submitted your absentee ballot, there's only one thing left for you to decide — how are you going to brag about it on social media? There are no rules governing that, though, so it's entirely up to you.