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Vote by Mail Programs Date Back to the Civil War

September 24, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

U.S. armed forces have long used the mail to cast their ballots from the front lines.

Voting by mail can trace its roots to soldiers voting far from home during the with the ratification of the 26th amendment.

America 101: Why do we vote on the first Tuesday? (TV-14; 1:30)

WATCH: America 101: Why Do We Vote on the First Tuesday?

2020 Election: Which States Offer Voting by Mail?

The 2020 presidential election takes place in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when concerns about virus transmission in crowds caused lawmakers to rethink rules around appearing in person to vote. For the first time in history, at least 75 percent of Americans are able to vote absentee.

In the 2020 election:

· Thirty-four U.S. states offer no-excuse absentee voting or permit registered voters to cite COVID-19 as their reason to vote absentee.

· Nine states and Washington, D.C. mail all ballots directly to voters: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

· Seven states—Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas—require voters to give a reason other than COVID-19 to vote absentee.

How to Vote by Mail

Ballots that go through the mail can be divided into two categories: Absentee ballots, typically requested by people who are unable to vote in person for physical reasons, and mail-in ballots, which are automatically provided to all eligible voters in states with all-mail voting systems.

The rules around voting by mail vary from state to state.

“When are ballots due? Postmarked? Federalism is a beautiful thing, but it’s complex because each state does something different,” says Atkeson. “In the end, access and security make for a well-run election and makes people feel that their vote is counted.”

Read More: How Americans Have Voted Throughout History: From Voices to Screens

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