(NEXSTAR) – It’s almost time for voters across the U.S. to cast their ballots in the midterm elections, the outcome of which will determine control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The midterms are an important opportunity for voters to make their voices heard. But some of those voters may have more options for submitting their ballots than others, depending on which state they call home.
Absentee voting, or the option to vote by mail (usually under specific circumstances), is currently available for residents of every U.S. state. Fifteen states, however, place restrictions on who can request an absentee ballot, generally limiting eligibility to only those serving in the Armed Forces, those with illnesses or physical disabilities, those with religious commitments, or others who will not be present to cast their votes in-person, like college students, travelers or those working away from home.
States with restrictions on absentee voting include:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
*Delaware approved a law in 2022 that would allow anyone to request a mail-in ballot, though it is currently being challenged.
In West Virginia, voters must have one of the following reasons to vote by mail:
- An illness, injury or another medical issue that keeps them confined
- Immobility due to their age or a physical disability
- Incarceration or detention in jail or home for a crime that does not preclude them form voting
- Employment that makes it impossible for them to get to the polls, either because of hours worked or distance from the polls
- Being a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) with the Office of the Secretary of State.
- Personal business or travel
- Attendance at college, university, or another place of education or training
- Temporarily living outside of the county due to serving as an elected, appointed federal or state officer, or due to a temporary assignment by an employer
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West Virginia’s deadline to register to vote or update your voter registration for the Nov. 8 election is Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. Early voting will begin on Wednesday, Oct. 26 and last until Saturday, Nov. 5.
Registered voters elsewhere in the country, meanwhile, may be able to request mail-in ballots without having to provide an excuse. This process, commonly known as “no-excuse absentee voting,” is allowed in 27 states and Washington, D.C.
States that allow for no-excuse absentee voting include:
- Washington, D.C.
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Only a handful of states make mail-in voting even more accessible by mailing ballots directly to all registered voters ahead of Election Day — no request needed. Currently, eight states operate statewide vote-by-mail processes, also known as all-mail elections.
States that mail ballots to all registered voters include:
- Vermont (only for general elections)
Counties in other states, too, may allow for all-mail elections, though only in specific jurisdictions, and often for specific elections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a non-governmental bipartisan organization comprised of legislators from across the country.
State-by-state election laws, meanwhile, are always in the process of changing. Many state legislatures took the opportunity to seek expanded voting opportunities after the 2020 presidential election, during which a record number of voters cast their ballots by mail. Other state legislatures, mostly in GOP-led states, have passed laws or introduced bills which are believed to make the voting process more restrictive, by mandating new ID requirements or putting restrictions for early voting and mail-in ballots, The Hill reported in September, citing a report published by the Election Law Journal.
The Election Law Journal’s report also argued that more restrictive laws were likely to “create confusion” among voters and “possibly discourage voter turnout.”
“Perhaps even more concerning, many changes can potentially scare off the low-paid employees and volunteers who local election administrators depend on to assist with election supervision,” the report states.
Critics of all-mail elections, on the other hand, have argued that voters who submit their ballots ahead of Election Day may miss out on last-minute information that could affect their vote. Or, as was often claimed during 2020 presidential election, critics say mail-in voting opens the election to voter fraud, although there has been no evidence to suggest that mail-in voting leads to more fraud than traditional in-person voting, and may even be more secure, the Brookings Institute, among other non-partisan organizations, have found.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) did however note several more legitimate concerns with mail-in voting, including increased postage costs, or disadvantages for those who cannot maintain consistent addresses.
Still, the NCSL points to advantages including increased voter turnout, increased voter satisfaction, and even cost savings, considering fewer staff and voting equipment is required at polling places where mail-in elections are held.
“If states want to increase voter participation, they need to work at removing those barriers, making it easier for citizens to vote,” said Michael Pomante, co-author of Election Law Journal, in a previous statement to The Hill.
State-by-state voting information was obtained through USA.gov, the National Association of Secretaries of State, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.