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Twenty-two states have provisions allowing certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail. For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. Typically, the voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve, places it into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.

Ballots are mailed out well ahead of Election Day, and thus voters have an “election period,” not just a single day, to vote. All-mail elections can be thought of as absentee voting for everyone. This system is also referred to as “Vote-By-Mail.”

Three of the 22 states — Oregon (2000), Washington (2011), and Colorado (2013) — hold all elections entirely by mail. Other states permit all-mail elections in certain circumstances, such as for special districts, municipal elections, when candidates are unopposed, or at the discretion of the county clerk. Traditional in-person voting precincts are not available in these three states. Instead, voters are able to return ballots by mail, in a drop-off location, and in some cases vote in-person at voter centers.

Generally, states begin with providing all-mail elections only in certain circumstances, and then add additional opportunities as citizens become familiar with procedures.

At least 15 states and the District of Columbia, allow some form of permanent absentee voting. In some states, this system is called “permanent mail-in voting.” Permanent absentee voting operates in a similar manner to all-mail elections. Voters in these states can sign up to have a ballot automatically mailed for every election where the voter is eligible.