Are absentee votes and mail-in votes different?

Max Pepper/CNN

What’s the difference between absentee voting and mail voting?

What’s the difference between absentee voting and mail voting? There really isn’t any difference. Both refer to the practice of filling out ballots that are sent to voters through the mail and returned either that way or at drop boxes or other designated places.

President Donald Trump has claimed that absentee balloting is fine, while mail balloting is not. Absentee voting, the president sometimes argues, means someone has to request a ballot as opposed to automatically getting one in the mail, which he calls mail voting.

All states offer voters the chance to cast absentee ballots if they can't make it to the polls on Election Day; some states call this process vote-by-mail. Other states offer universal mail-in voting, which is largely the same thing on a larger scale.

To Vote Absentee…

Voters must request a ballot from the local or state office that administers elections. Some states require a valid excuse for why you cannot vote on Election Day, while others offer "no-excuse" absentee voting.

With Mail-In Voting…

Election administrators send ballots to every registered voter in the jurisdiction before Election Day. Several states do this for all elections, while others have adopted it in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Both Cases…

Voters sign and return their ballots by mail, or to elections offices or designated drop boxes if provided. State deadlines vary for when a ballot must be received to be counted.

Envelopes are opened by elections officials, who verify the voter's signature against one on file. Ballots are separated from envelopes and processed; states have varying timelines for when ballots may be opened and tabulated.

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