Can I Change My Mind as an Absentee Voter?
Absentee voting provides ease and convenience for domestic and overseas voters alike.
- Indeed, many registered voters, particularly since the pandemic, have opted for this method. A mail-in or absentee ballot allows you to vote at your leisure: You can fill out a mail ballot from the comfort of your home, and avoid lines during the early voting period or on Election Day.
- States offering no-excuse absentee voting, moreover, offer it during both general elections and primary elections. And in many states, there’s still time to request a ballot, using an application form or federal post card application (FPCA) (for overseas citizens) through your local clerk’s office. Once completed, too, you can either mail it back, drop it off at a drop box, or return it in person to the county clerk, with some states permitting caregivers or family members to take it in for you.
- That said, sometimes voters change their minds before the day of the election and decide they’d rather vote in person, even after having requested an absentee ballot. That shouldn’t become a barrier to voting. You may need a little help figuring out what to do. And each state has a different rule on the issue, so when in doubt consult your secretary of state’s rules. Below is a guide to voting in-person if you’ve changed your mind about that absentee or mail-in ballot.
There are two main reasons why you may decide to vote in-person after originally planning to use an absentee or mail-in ballot:
- Ballot Blunder
Your ballot may not have arrived in time for you to mail it back in time to be counted – or it may never have arrived at all. You may have spoiled your ballot by ripping it, spilling something on it, or making a mistake filling it out. Did your dog eat the ballot? Ballot blunders happen to the best of us.
Voting In-Person Prerogative
You may have considered voting with an absentee or mail-in ballot due to health concerns during the pandemic, but you no longer feel the need to take extra social distancing precautions. Or you may enjoy the personal touch and civic connection of voting in person in your community with your neighbors. And some people just feel more confident that their vote will count when they can personally witness their ballot submission in person.
Regardless of the reason...
even if you’ve already received an absentee or mail-in ballot, you may still have options for voting in-person if you change your mind after receiving your absentee ballot (and ballot envelope) at your mailing address. It’s important to note that each state has its own guidelines to address this situation, so you’ll need to do some research on your options.
In some cases....
voters will simply need to attest that they are not voting twice. That means, when you get to the polling place, you’ll sign an affidavit stating that, even though you requested an absentee ballot, you did not vote it. Some states impose an additional step that requires a voter to surrender or cancel their absentee or mail-in ballot, either at the polling place or to a clerk’s office before election day. In other states voters who requested absentee or mail-in ballots will have to use provisional ballots if they decide to vote in person at their polling locations.
A provisional ballot is still a ballot, but unlike regular ballots these are kept separate so that election officials can verify after the election whether a provisional ballot should be counted. Election officials will want to make sure that the person did not vote twice, once using an absentee or mail-in ballot and the second time using an in-person ballot. As long as you didn’t vote twice – which is a serious crime that could lead to a prison sentence – your provisional ballot will be counted.
To sum it up, there are five ways to vote in person instead of with your absentee or mail-in ballot, depending on your state’s individual rules.
- You’re allowed to vote using a regular ballot without having to surrender your absentee or mail-in ballot (and signing an affidavit stating that you did not previously vote in this election)
- You’re allowed to vote with a regular ballot after surrendering your absentee or mail-in ballot
- You’re allowed to vote a provisional ballot after surrendering your absentee or mail-in ballot
- You’re allowed to vote with a provisional ballot regardless of whether you have surrendered your absentee or mail-in ballot
- You live in a vote-by-mail state and need to go to an election office, rather than the polling place, to vote in person.
Don’t despair if you’ve changed your mind or made a ballot blunder, just consult US Vote’s detailed, state-by-state guide to understanding your options. It’s easier than you think.
But do remember to double-check your voter registration well before heading to the polling place (generally a month before Election Day, given many states’ deadlines). And if your state requires it, please bring your driver’s license or other form of photo ID. Then go vote! Remember: Every U.S. citizen should be a voter.