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Vote-by-Mail: An Established Option Needed During COVID-19 Pandemic

Increasing opportunities to vote by mail provide voters with a safe and convenient way to exercise their civic duty. This option is more important than ever in the face of the health and safety precautions necessary to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this pressing need, vote-by-mail is the subject of political controversy.

Voting by mail is a well-established practice in many parts of the country. Five states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. At least 21 other states have laws that allow smaller elections, such as school board contests, to be conducted by mail. For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. While “all mail” elections mean that every registered voter receives a ballot by mail, voters can still choose to vote in-person on or before election day.

In Nebraska’s recent primary, the secretary of state’s office promoted mail-in ballots by mailing every voter a form to request an absentee ballot. As a result, the May 12 election witnessed the most votes ever cast for a Nebraska primary, with about 34% turnout of eligible voters voting.

Resources are available to understand each state’s vote-by-mail options.  The National Council of State Legislatures has compiled a list of states that participate in all-mail elections and the associated state statutes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) created a state-by-state resource with detailed information on dates of state elections, how to apply for or receive an absentee ballot, and rules for voting by mail.

Our Homes, Our Votes: 2020, NLIHC’s non-partisan candidate and voter engagement project, is elevating affordable housing in the elections and encouraging affordable housing advocates to vote. Check out our website for more tips on voter engagement, and check back often for more information about ways to engage voters and residents around absentee voting.