2020 Election: What's the difference between an absentee and mail-in ballot? Very little

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There is no disputing that this year's election will be different than those in years past. It will be relying more on ballots sent through the mail, than those cast in the ballot booth.

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This year, California and other states across the country have decided to send all registered voters a ballot in the mail.

So, what is the difference between voting by mail and absentee voting?

Well, it turns out - very little. Voting by mail and absentee voting is basically the same thing.

Let us explain.


Every state offers mail-In ballots, a ballot you get in the mail, fill out on your own time, and send in the mail. An absentee ballot is one you "request" because you will not be able to make it to the poll. You get it in the mail, fill it out on your time, and send it back in the mail.

The term "absentee ballot" has been used since the Civil War, created to let soldiers on the front lines vote while they were "absent" from home. Back then, you needed an excuse to request an absentee ballot.

Over the years, that need for an excuse has faded away - in the present day - 34 states and the District of Columbia allow registered voters to mail in their ballots.

That includes red states and blue states like Alaska, Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

In five of those states, the government already sends all voters ballots by mail.

Just six states, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina require voters to provide an excuse to request an absentee ballot.

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This year, 190 million voters are eligible to vote by mail.

That's because many states have changed their rules to make mail-in voting easier by either "sending" all registered voters ballots, or making it easier for them to request a ballot.

In the 2016 Presidential election, one in four voters casted their ballot by mail.

What about fraud?


Ballot fraud is extremely rare.

The state of Oregon has been conducting elections by mail since 1998. The conservative Heritage Foundation has warned of the risks associated with voting by mail in Oregon. However, the organization has only found 14 cases of mail fraud out of more than 15 million ballots cast.

That is because mail-in ballots are highly scrutinized. The signature on the ballot must match voter registration records to be counted. Ballots are printed on special paper and include technical markings, like watermarks and unique barcodes that make counterfeiting a ballot difficult.

Ballots are also not uniform, there is a lot of variation from place to place. Local races like those for a mayor or congressional representatives are often very specific to a community...anything out of place gets kicked out for closer inspection, that includes voting twice, a felony in California.

One thing that is uniform across all states is that your ballot must be postmarked by Election Day.

With so many states offering vote-by-mail this year, election officials are encouraging everyone to vote early and mail that ballot in soon if you want it counted.

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