Top 15 Absentee Vote-by-Mail Ballot Questions of 2020

Here are the most commonly asked Domestic and Overseas Absentee Ballot questions from our Voter Help Desk. Have a look and see if your question is answered.

1. Is there still time to request an absentee ballot?

2. When are ballots mailed out and where’s mine?

  • States vary in their timing for mailing out ballots. For domestic voters, expect it to be sent about 4 weeks prior to Election Day. For overseas voters, it will be sent as of 45 days prior to the election.
  • If you sent your ballot request form to your election office and confirmed that you are registered, but don't yet have your ballot - it is good to check on its whereabouts as soon as possible.
  • Go to the State Voting Requirements directory: Look up your state and open the "State Lookup Tools - Am I registered? Where's my ballot?" section. There you will see the "Where's My Ballot" link - if your state offers it (they don't all have this).
  • If the "Where's My Ballot" link is unavailable or you do not find your ballot, you will need to look up and call your election office - they manage ballot sending and counting.
  • Also, check out the new Ballot Return Options chart.

3. Is there a deadline to vote and return my absentee ballot?

  • Of course there is a deadline! And of course the deadline differs by state (this is America!:-)
  • Pay attention to whether your ballot return deadline is "postmarked" or "received by" Election Day. There's a big difference between those two.
  • Check the Election Dates & Deadlines chart. (Notice the toggle to overseas voter dates!)
  • Try to get it there before the deadline.
  • Best to vote and send back your ballot as soon as you receive it.

4. Can I view my sample ballot?

  • Many states offer a service that allows you to view your sample ballot.
  • Go to the State Voting Requirements directory:
  • Look up your state and open the "State Lookup Tools" section. There you will see a “Can I View My Sample Ballot?" link - if your state offers it. Check this again as of 6 weeks before the election.

5. I received my absentee ballot. When should I return it?

  • Always complete and return your absentee ballot as soon as possible. How about, immediately.
  • It is best to take your ballot to the post office and make sure it gets postmarked to confirm that it was returned before the deadline. Or... if there are problems with the post....
  • It may also be possible for you to drop off your ballot at your election office or in a ballot dropbox.

6. Why am I being asked to sign the outside of the ballot return envelope?

  • It is essential that you sign the outside of the ballot envelope as indicated on your envelope and in the instructions that come with your ballot.
  • This is for the purpose of signature matching, to confirm your identity. Keep your signature consistent with the signature on your ballot request.
  • When the ballots are prepared for counting, the envelope and the ballot will be separated in order to keep your ballot confidential.

7. Can I return my ballot in person to my local election office, or put it in a dropbox?

  • Most states have options to either drop off your ballot at your election office in-person, or put it in a drop box. Please try to do so BEFORE Election Day. 
  • Many states offer multiple options. Also, check out the new Ballot Return Options chart.
  • Check the Election Dates & Deadlines chart to be sure of your state's deadlines. A ballot that must be RECEIVED by Election Day means earlier action than a ballot that must be postmarked by Election Day. Plan accordingly.

8. I received my absentee ballot, but I have a question about it (or the envelope). Who should I ask?

9. Who counts absentee ballots and are all ballots counted?

  • Absentee ballots are counted by your Local Election Office.
  • Strict ballot counting procedures are in place to protect the confidentiality of your vote.
  • ALL ballots must be counted: that is the law of the land. Every Local Election Office must “certify” the results of the election.
  • This requires that every ballot is counted and/or accounted for - this is not an option. It is a legal requirement.
  • Even if the results of the election are called before the end of ballot counting (due to the margin), all ballots must be counted.

10. Do I need to vote for every contest/race on the ballot?

  • No, you do not have to vote for every contest or race or proposition on the ballot
  • Your ballot will still be counted even if you do not complete it in full.

11. My overseas absentee ballot is late; what should I do?

  • Overseas Ballots are sent as of 45 days prior to the election - good idea to check it if yours has not appeared yet
  • Go to the State Voting Requirements directory: Look up your state and open the "State Lookup Tools" section. There you will see a "Where's My Ballot" link as well - if your state offers it (they don't all have this).
  • If the Where's My Ballot link is unavailable or you do not find your ballot, you will need to look up and call your election office - they manage ballot sending and counting.
  • If you cannot obtain your ballot, please use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot.

12. Where can I find the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB)?

13. What if I sent in the FWAB and my actual ballot arrives from my election office?

  • Even if you used the FWAB, you should vote the ballot that is sent to you and return it.
  • Your election office will replace your FWAB with your actual ballot before counting begins.

14. I am voting from overseas, but am planning to give my ballot to someone to carry back to the US and mail there - is that a good idea?

  • NO! That is a terrible idea.
  • Overseas ballots need an overseas POSTMARK or they risk being rejected.
  • Mail overseas ballots from overseas and make sure the postmark is put on the envelope and not blurred.
  • If you take your ballot to a consulate or embassy, they will mark it appropriately (but they will not necessarily be faster than the post office).
  • If you send the ballot through an express courier service (like FedEx or DHL), the waybill will indicate the date of sending.

15. What postage do I need for my absentee ballot?

  • It is always best to take your ballot to the post office to be sure that the postage is correct and that it is clearly postmarked.
  • Postage can vary - don't guess it.

Bonus Question: Can I vote online?

  • You’re kidding, right? (Hi Vlad!)
  • If you're not kidding, please think about if you really want to vote online and expose your vote to hacking, tampering, or interception.
  • Just about every aspect of the voting process is online, but casting your ballot is not.
  • Some states do offer overseas voters the option to return ballots by email, but if you have a time to return it on paper, we suggest you opt for the post as your first choice.


If you have a voting question that is not answered in the above list, please consult our Voter Help Desk! 99.9% of all voter questions are likely found in our FAQ.

P.S. Yep, there's more: We have a new series of Live from the Voter Help Desk videos available on YouTube.