Confused? A guide to election terms
WASHINGTON — President Trump frequently says there’s a difference between absentee voting, which he once called “good” in a tweet, and mailin voting, which he has called “inaccurate and fraudulent.”
But the people who run elections don’t make that distinction.
Though the terms vary from statetostate, as do the laws, the terms “absentee voting,” “mailin voting” and even “universal vote by mail” have different meanings than the ones Trump has assigned to them, causing some confusion about the November election. States are facing a sharp increase in requests for mailin voting as the coronavirus leaves voters unwilling to wait in lines or crowded precincts to vote.
But the president has alleged, without evidence, that the process is ripe for fraud. He has raised concerns — even questioned whether the Nov. 3 election should take place that day — over the legitimacy of the election as he trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the polls.
Trump continued his attack on Monday, saying at a White House news conference that universal mailin voting, where absentee ballots are sent automatically to all voters in a state, was going to be a “disaster” and “a great embarrassment to our country.”
A quick guide to how the terms are most commonly used by elections officials:
⏩ Absentee voting: This is for people who are “absent” from their homes on Election Day as well as those with disabilities, the elderly or with other excuses for not being able to vote in person. Today, residents of all 50 states can vote absentee, though in some places an excuse is required.
⏩ Inperson voting: As absentee voting became more widespread, elections directors began referring to voting at a polling place as “inperson voting.”
⏩ Noexcuse absentee voting: Residents of 34 states and Washington, D.C., allow absentee voting without an excuse by law, while others have loosened requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic.
⏩ Votebymail: Because most voters in a noexcuse absentee ballot states are no longer “absent,” many elections officials have begun using the term “votebymail” or “mailin ballots” as a catchall term for ballots sent through the mail.
⏩ Universal votebymail: As votebymail became more popular, a handful of mostly Western states did away with the requirement to request a mailin ballot, opting to automatically send every registered voter a ballot.
⏩ Early voting: Many states also allow voters to show up at the elections office or other early voting centers in the days before an election, fill out a mailin ballot and hand it in. Some states call this “early voting,” but others refer to this as “inperson absentee voting.”