Mail In Voting

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Mail In Voting

Voting by mail in the United States started during the Civil War and World War II. Mail or absentee voting enabled soldiers far from home to participate in the voting exercises. Some states extended mail voting to civilians by the late 1800s under specific conditions. However, it was until 2000 when Oregon moved to an all-mail voting stating as the first state in the US. The second state to follow suit was Washington in 2011, followed by Colorado in 2013. The United States Constitution states in Article 1, Section 4 that each state has the responsibility to determine “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections.”


  • Initially, people who participated in the voting exercise by mail had to give a specific reason regarding their inability to participate in person on Election Day. However, in 1978, “California became the first state to allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot without having to provide an excuse,” as stated by Paul Gronke, director and founder of Early Voting Information Center and Reed College’s professor of political science.
  • According to Gronke, California’s “no-excuse absentee balloting,” was introduced by the state when it realized that many people were lying about their inability to get to the polling stations due to long commutes or various inconveniences. This move would, therefore, allow voters to cast their votes by mail without giving any reason.
  • More information about absentee ballot use in California is available here.


  • In the late 1980s, Texas became the first state to provide early in-person voting, for similar convenience reasons as to those noted by the state of California. More historic data about Texas’ voter registration and early voting figures can be found here.


  • Oregon became the first state in the US to conduct a federal primary election exclusively by mail. In January 1996, Democrat Ron Wyden was elected in the “first mail-only general election to fill a federal seat,” an office he has held since. In 1998, a citizens initiative that garnered 70% approval would see Oregon become the first all vote-by-mail state in 2000.
  • A brief history of Oregon’s vote by mail can be found here.

States with No-Excuse Absentee Voting

  • Sixteen states in the US require domestic voters wishing to vote by mail or absentee to provide an “excuse” that gives information about their inability to vote on Election Day. Washington, D.C., and the other 34 states do not ask for an excuse for people willing to vote absentee or by mail. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah are the only five states that conduct elections exclusively by mail. This means that voters automatically receive a ballot without the need to request one. The remaining 29 states and D.C. offer “no-excuse” voting, which means that people willing to cast votes can request a mail ballot without giving an excuse. These states are available here.

Absentee Voting in 2016 Presidential Election

  • One in four voters cast their votes by mail in the 2016 presidential elections. According to MIT political scientist who analyzed numbers from the Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database, out of the 250 million votes cast by mail, only 0.00006% were fraudulent.

2020 Presidential Election

  • The 2020 presidential election took place during the coronavirus pandemic. During this time, voting by mail was further encouraged to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At least 75% of Americans were, for the first time in history, able to vote absentee. The pandemic also saw nine states and Washington, D.C. provide an all-mail voting platform. These states are “California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.”
  • On the other hand, seven states, which are Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, required voters to state their “excuse” to vote absentee other than COVID-19.
  • A comprehensive report of absentee voting in the 2020 presidential election is available here.

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