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How to vote by mail in the 2020 U.S. election

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Voting is an important part of being an American citizen that every eligible person should do their best to participate in. Of course, with the United States in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, voting is easier said than done in the year 2020. Thankfully, most states offer methods for some or all of their residents to vote by mail.

We’ve compiled everything you need to know to understand how you can vote by mail in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) in the 2020 U.S. election. To the best of our ability, the information is accurate as of publishing time. But with less than three months to go until Election Day, voting laws are still in flux in states across the country; we strongly recommend verifying the details with your local board of elections or other relevant authorities. And if you see any details that appear to be incorrect or out of date, please alert us via email.


A state-by-state map of mail voting in the 2020 U.S. election

Graphic: Samit Sarkar/Polygon via Infogram

To get you started, we’ve put together a state-by-state map to illustrate the current status of the various mail voting laws that are in effect across the U.S. All states allow some form of voting by mail, but each one handles the process differently, and it’s not uncommon for states to restrict absentee voting to people who have a legitimate excuse. That’s in normal circumstances, though. During the coronavirus pandemic, many states have temporarily changed their laws to make it easier to vote by mail in the 2020 general election.

As of Aug. 24, 44 states and the District of Columbia will allow all registered voters to cast mail ballots this year — residents either won’t need to give an excuse for why they’re voting by mail rather than in person, or they’ll be able to cite the pandemic as an excuse. In many states, voters will have to fill out an application to request that a ballot be mailed to them. But nine of the 44 states, plus D.C., will go a step further in facilitating absentee voting: They will send absentee ballots to every registered voter, no application required. The remaining six states have not relaxed their existing restrictions on mail voting; people who live there will still have to vote in person unless they have one of the usual excuses, because the pandemic doesn’t count as one.

As we mentioned above, policies are still liable to change. For instance, it wasn’t until Aug. 20 that New York amended its laws to make the pandemic an acceptable excuse for absentee voting. We’ll do our best to keep the map — and this article — updated with the latest.


Things everyone should know

When is Election Day 2020?

By law, Election Day in the U.S. falls on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In 2020, that day is Nov. 3.

Register to vote

Before we get started, it’s important to note that voting by mail in any state is only available to those who have registered to vote in that state. We have a whole guide on how to register to vote in every state, so check that out first and make sure you’re registered.

What’s the difference between absentee ballots and mail voting?

For all intents and purposes, there is no difference — certainly no legal distinction — between voting by mail and voting via an absentee ballot. This article uses the terms interchangeably, depending on each state’s individual language.

First-time voters

If this is your first time voting, you’ll likely need to include a copy of your ID with your completed ballot or application — probably a photo ID, to be specific. This is true in every state, but instructions included with your ballot or application will tell you more.

Read the envelope

Many envelopes for mail-in ballots require you to sign them or include extra information. Each state is different, but the envelopes should say directly on them what is required. Pay attention to those steps, follow their instructions, and provide the necessary information.

You’ll probably need to print something

The most common method of applying for a vote-by-mail ballot is to download a form, fill it out, print it, and then mail it. Because many people — especially younger people — don’t have printers, this can be a little tricky. Thankfully, there are a few places that can help. You can usually use your local library to print something short like a mail ballot application, or if you’re in high school or college, you can likely print through your school’s computer labs as well.

Send everything in as early as you possibly can

The United States Postal Service is currently facing a funding crisis. This has meant cutbacks and mail delays, on top of the difficulties caused by COVID-19 itself. Mail is now likely to arrive at its destination significantly later than it otherwise would. Because of these facts, it’s very important that any part of the mail-in voting process, whether it be the application or the ballot itself, be mailed as early as possible.

If you have any doubts about whether an item will be delivered on time, you can almost always hand-deliver it to the location you’re attempting to send it to, anyway. Most state election offices, or county and circuit clerks offices, will have drop boxes available, meaning that you won’t need to interact with anyone or break social distancing to make the delivery. Hand delivery, while obviously more difficult than mailing, will ensure that your ballot or application is received on time.


How to vote by mail in every state

Alabama

Residents can request absentee ballots by submitting an application to their county Absentee Election Manager either in person or through the mail. Each county has a unique application, which can be found here. Under the state of emergency general election absentee regulations, which were enacted earlier this year for the COVID-19 pandemic, residents should select the “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls” option on their absentee application for pandemic-related approval. Applications must be received no later than the 5th day prior to the election. The ballot itself must be postmarked no later than the day before the election, and received no later than noon on Election Day if mailed to the Absentee Election Manager. If it’s delivered in person, the deadline is no later than 5 p.m. on the day prior to the election.

Alaska

Any resident may request a ballot by mail in Alaska for any reason. To do so, residents of the state can use the Online Absentee Ballot Application with a valid state ID, or complete the PDF, then print, sign, and mail it to the Absentee Office. Absentee applications in Alaska must be received 10 days before Election Day. Alaska residents who request a By-Mail Ballot will receive the ballot with a return envelope, and the ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day.

Arizona

Arizona offers residents two ways to register for Ballot-By-Mail. You can either request one, or join the state’s Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL). To sign up for PEVL, you can either apply online, or submit a written request form. The deadline to join PEVL or request a Ballot-By-Mail is Oct. 23. If you’d like a one-time Ballot-By-Mail, you can request one online, call or email your county recorder, or submit a written request form. The deadline for one-time Ballot-By-Mail options is also Oct. 23. Completed ballots must be received by your county’s election officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day. If you’re returning your ballot by mail, Arizona recommends mailing it by Oct. 27 — one week before Election Day.

Arkansas

Residents of Arkansas can vote by mail in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has announced. While the governor mentioned in his speech on the subject that residents can apply for ballots online, it appears that is only true for those in military service. For everyone else, you’ll need to download the absentee ballot application and send it to your local county clerk, according to officials at the Arkansas Elections Division. Applications must be submitted by mail seven days before the election, and completed ballots must be delivered to the county clerk by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

California

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in executive order N-64-20, ordered that all California residents who are registered to vote be delivered a vote-by-mail ballot. The state will still hold in-person elections under strict guidelines, but all registered voters will receive a mail-in ballot. All mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by your county elections office no later than 17 days after Election Day.

Colorado

Colorado provides every registered voter with a mail ballot automatically. The state will still have in-person elections this year, but all voters will receive their mail ballots as usual. Ballots must be received by your local county clerk no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day. You can either mail the ballot back to your local county clerk, or deliver it in person. If you’re a first-time voter, you’ll need to include a copy of your ID with your mail ballot.

Connecticut

In Connecticut, the current plan appears to be for Secretary of State Denise Merrill to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state. However, voters can also request mail ballots under a no-excuse allowance in 2020, meaning that any registered voter who requests a ballot will be given one. Registered voters in Connecticut can use the absentee ballot request form on the Connecticut Secretary of State website, and simply check the COVID-19 box to receive their ballot by mail.

Delaware

Delaware will allow voters to request absentee or Vote By Mail ballots. The state’s online form is the simplest method, but there are also two forms you can use to send in your application through the mail: a Vote By Mail application or an absentee ballot application. The Vote By Mail form doesn’t require a reason for the request. On the absentee ballot form, reason No. 3 (“I am sick, or temporarily or permanently physically disabled”) will be accepted in 2020 as an excuse to obtain an absentee ballot, on order of Gov. John Carney. Regardless of whether you’re using an absentee ballot or Vote By Mail, your ballot must arrive at your county elections office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

District of Columbia

For the 2020 general election, the D.C. Board of Elections is mailing a ballot to every active voter at their registered address, so you don’t need to request one. The district does not require residents to have a reason to vote by mail. The ballots must be postmarked before Election Day, and must arrive no later than seven days after the election.

Florida

Residents of Florida can request a vote-by-mail ballot for any reason (according to Florida statute 101.62). The ballots themselves must be requested through a voter’s local county Supervisor of Elections. Some supervisors have online applications; others only accept mail-in or in-person submissions. A supervisor must receive applications for vote-by-mail ballots no later than 5 p.m. on the 10th day before Election Day (Oct. 24). Voters must return completed ballots to their supervisor’s office by no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day; the state recommends ballots be mailed a week ahead of Election Day in order to meet this deadline.

Georgia

Registered voters in Georgia are allowed to vote by mail without an excuse. Residents must fill out the state’s Application for Official Absentee Ballot (PDF). Once this PDF is filled out, it must be returned to the county Board of Registrars Office either in person, by mail, by fax, or by email as an attachment. Applications must be submitted by the end of business on the Friday before Election Day (Oct. 30). Completed ballots must arrive at the local county election office by Election Day.

Hawaii

All registered voters in Hawaii automatically receive ballots to vote by mail. Once you’ve filled out your ballot, simply place it in the secrecy sleeve, then use the return envelope that was sent with the ballot. Sign and mail the envelope, which will already be addressed to the Clerk’s Office. All ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Idaho

Registered Idaho voters can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail, no excuse needed, by using the Absentee Request Form and mailing it to their local county clerk’s office. Applications must be received by the county clerk’s office by the 11th day prior to Election Day (Oct. 23). Completed ballots must be received by the county clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Illinois

Illinois voters may request a vote-by-mail ballot for any reason. The application must be printed, filled out, and mailed to your local county clerk’s office (the correct address will be at the bottom of your application) or other election authority in the jurisdiction in which you’re registered. Some jurisdictions have online applications. Applications must be received by Oct. 29. Ballots themselves must be returned to your local election authority by 7 p.m. on Election Day, or postmarked by Election Day.

Indiana

Indiana voters can apply for an absentee-by-mail ballot, but must have a reason to vote by mail. Valid reasons include being away from the state, having a disability, being 65 or older, working, or being confined due to illness. However, voters will not be able to use COVID-19 as a reason to vote by mail. Voters can download and fill out the application, then send it to their local election authority by mail, in person, by email, or by filling out the online application using the state’s online portal. Applications must be submitted by Oct. 22. Ballots themselves must be received by no later than noon on Election Day.

Iowa

Iowa residents can request a mail-in absentee ballot using an Absentee Ballot Request Form. The form must be filled out, then mailed or delivered in person to the resident’s local county auditor. The request must be received by the auditor’s office by 5 p.m. on Oct. 24. Completed ballots must be postmarked the Monday before Election Day (Nov. 2), and must be received by the auditor’s office no later than noon on the Monday after Election Day (Nov. 9).

Kansas

Registered voters in Kansas can request absentee ballots in order to vote by mail. Applications for vote-by-mail ballots must be submitted to the local county election authority by Oct. 27. (The addresses for election offices throughout the state are on the ballot application.) Completed ballots must be postmarked on or by Election Day and received by the county election office by close of business on the Friday following Election Day (Nov. 6).

Kentucky

Kentucky will allow residents concerned about COVID-19 to vote by mail, as long as they have applied for an absentee ballot. Registered voters may request absentee ballots online. The deadline to request a ballot is 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 9. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by your local county clerk’s office by 6 p.m. on Nov. 6.

Louisiana

Louisiana voters can register for absentee ballots in order to vote by mail. Applications for absentee ballots can be found by searching for your voter registration on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website to complete the form online, or through your local parish’s registrar of voters; contact each registrar to find out the requirements. During the state’s primary, Louisiana put in place temporary legislation to let voters cite COVID-19 as a reason to vote absentee. However, this applied only to high-risk individuals, and has not been extended to the general election. Absentee ballot applications must be turned in by 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, while completed ballots must be received by the registrar of voters by 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 2.

Maine

Maine will allow all voters to request absentee ballots. They can do this by filling out a form online, or with a PDF form that can be filled out and delivered to the local municipal clerk or registrar of voters; the deadline to request a mail ballot is 5 p.m. on Oct. 29. All completed ballots must be returned to the local municipal clerk or the registrar of voters by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Maryland

Maryland will mail applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters. In addition, any registered voter can request a mail ballot online, or by filling out a form (PDF) and mailing it to their local election office. Ballot requests must be received by Oct. 20. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 13.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts is mailing applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters, and they can request ballots themselves for any reason. Registered voters just have to fill out the Vote-by-Mail Application then deliver it to their local election office by Oct. 28. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and must arrive at local election offices by Nov. 6.

Michigan

Michigan is mailing applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters, and the state normally allows voters to request mail ballots for any reason. Registered voters can fill out the request form at michigan.gov/vote after checking their registration status. Voters must send the completed form to their local clerk — the address for which can be found on michigan.gov/vote — by no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 30. Completed ballots must be returned to the local clerk, along with a signature on the designated envelope, by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Minnesota

Registered voters in Minnesota can request mail-in ballots. Applications for mail-in ballots can be completed online or by downloading a PDF and sending it to your local county election official by mail, fax, or email. Minnesota’s voting website does not currently have a hard deadline on applications, but it recommends voters send in the applications as soon as possible. As for the actual ballots, Minnesota has several changes to its process this year. While the state normally requires a witness signature on ballots, that will not be necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, ballots should be received by Election Day, but ballots received up to seven days afterwards will still count this year.

Mississippi

Mississippi normally allows certain registered voters, specifically those over 65 years of age or with restrictive medical conditions, to apply to vote-by-mail. This year there will also apparently be an option related to COVID-19, according to Mississippi State Director Kimberly Campbell. The state has yet to provide further clarification on this option and whether or not it will apply simply to those who have recently been exposed to COVID-19 or to a larger group of at-risk or general voters. To apply for a vote-by-mail ballot, you’ll have to contact your local Circuit or Municipal Clerk’s Office within 45 days of Election Day.

Missouri

Missouri will allow voters to request vote-by-mail ballots in order to avoid risk of transmitting or contracting COVID-19. Registered voters in the state may download the Missouri Mail-in Ballot Request and return the filled out form to the local election authority. Requests must be received by the election authority no later than 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday prior to Election Day. Completed ballots must be returned to the election authority by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Montana

Registered voters in Montana can fill out an Application for Absentee Ballot and return it to their local county election office. The application must be received by noon on the day before Election Day. Completed absentee ballots must be returned, in a signed envelope, to the county election office, which must receive them by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Nebraska

Nebraska allows registered voters to request mail-in ballots for any reason. Voters can download the early voting form on the Nebraska Secretary of State website, then send the completed form to their local county election official. Voters can also scan and email the completed and signed form, or even take a picture of the signed form and email that instead. Applications must be submitted to the local county election official by Oct. 23. Completed mail-in ballots must be received by local election officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Nevada

Nevada allows all registered voters to request mail-in ballots by filling out the Absent Ballot Request Form. The completed form must be sent to the voter’s local County Clerk/Registrar of Votersexcept in Clark County, where voters use a separate website. Requests must be received by no later than 5 p.m. 14 days before Election Day. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than 7 days after Election Day.

New Hampshire

Registered voters in New Hampshire are required to have a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot or vote-by-mail ballot. In 2020, concerns over contracting or exposing others to COVID-19 are considered to be valid reasons. Voters must submit an absentee application to their local county clerk. There is no set deadline for submission of applications, but you should make sure your clerk receives it at least 14 days ahead of Election Day, as the approval process can take time. Completed ballots must be received by your local clerk by 5 p.m. on Election Day.

New Jersey

New Jersey allows registered voters to request vote-by-mail ballots for any reason. Voters must fill out the proper mail-in-ballot application for their county, then return it to their County Clerk by mail at least seven days prior to Election Day. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than 48 hours after polling closes on Election Day — though some specific counties may have different deadlines.

New Mexico

New Mexico voters may request an absentee ballot for any reason. Registered voters can make this request by applying online, contacting their local County Clerk’s Office, or downloading an Absentee Ballot Application and mailing it to their local County Clerk’s Office. Absentee ballots must be turned in by Oct. 20, either by mail or online. Completed ballots must be returned to the County Clerk’s Office by no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day.

New York

New York allows voters to apply for vote-by-mail ballots, but they must have one of several valid reasons, none of which cover the COVID-19 pandemic at the moment. The state has several pieces of legislation currently moving through the state legislature, though none have been passed yet; NY State Senate Bill S8015D appears to be the furthest along and is just waiting for a signature from the governor. Most of these pieces of legislation would allow the “illness” reason on the absentee ballot form to cover fear of contracting or spreading a disease in a pandemic. Should any of these pieces of legislation pass in the near future, registered voters will be able to fill out the absentee ballot application, which they must send to their local county board no later than seven days before Election Day. Completed ballots must be received by close of polls on Election Day or postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received no later than the seventh day after Election Day.

North Carolina

All registered North Carolina voters may request vote-by-mail ballots for any reason. Voters can request vote-by-mail ballots by using the State Absentee Ballot Request Form. The signed form must be received by the local county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day. Any vote-by-mail ballot for the 2020 General Election in North Carolina must be observed by at least one witness — down from the standard two in other elections. A completed and witnessed ballot must be received by the voter’s local county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. on Election Day.

North Dakota

North Dakota allows anyone in the state to apply for a mail ballot. Applying does require voter registration. Residents can fill out the mail ballot application then send it to their local election officials. There’s no specific deadline for these requests. According to the 2019-2021 official Election Law Book of North Dakota, Chapter 16.1-07 section 3, the applications must be completed in a “timely manner.” Completed ballots must be postmarked no later than the day before Election Day.

Ohio

All registered Ohio voters can request a vote-by-mail ballot using the absentee ballot request form. Voters must mail completed forms to their local county board of elections, where they must be received by noon on the third day before Election Day. Completed ballots should also be sent to the county board of elections and must be received before the close of polls on Election Day or postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received no later than 10 days after the election.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma will allow voters to apply for vote-by-mail ballots, but only if they meet certain criteria in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters may choose the “Physically Incapacitated” option on the vote-by-mail request if they have tested positive for COVID-19 and are receiving medical treatment or are in quarantine, or if they have COVID-19 symptoms, or if they are high-risk individuals, or can provide a written recommendation from a physician that they should stay home during the pandemic. Any ballot given to a registered voter who has checked the “Physically Incapacitated” option — for COVID-19 or any other reason — must be verified by two witnesses, or by attaching a copy of a valid identification if the COVID-19 state of emergency is still in effect. Vote-by-mail ballots can be applied for online or by sending a completed application form to a local county election board no later than 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day. Completed ballots must be received by the county election board before 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Oregon

All registered voters in Oregon received vote-by-mail ballots and simply need to complete them and mail them via the pre-addressed envelopes. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Pennsylvania

All registered voters in Pennsylvania can request mail-in ballots either online, or by mail, for any reason. Completed applications must be received by your local county election office by Oct. 27 at 5 p.m.. Completed ballots must be received by local election offices by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island typically has select criteria to determine who is allowed to vote by mail. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone can request a mail ballot by selecting Option 4 in Box C on the application. Once completed, applications must be sent to your local board of canvassers by 4 p.m. on Oct. 13. Completed ballots must be inserted into the Voter’s Mail Ballot Certificate (small envelope) along with the voter’s printed name, a telephone number, signature, and either their state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security Number. Then the voter can place the Voter’s Mail Ballot Certificate into the larger postage-paid envelope, addressed to the Rhode Island Board of Elections (P.O. Box 6128, Providence, RI 02940).

South Carolina

Registered South Carolina voters can request a mail-in ballot using the printable online application. Once the application has been filled out, it must be returned to the local county voter registration office by no later than 5 p.m. on the fourth day prior to Election Day. The application may be returned by mail, email, fax, or personal delivery. Completed ballots can be delivered in person or by mail, but must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

South Dakota

South Dakota voters can request mail-in ballots using the Absentee Ballot Application Form. These applications will need to be sent to a voter’s local county auditor by 5 p.m. on the day before Election Day. All applications must either be notarized, or include a photocopy of a photo identification card. If a voter cannot copy their ID, they can take a photo and email it to their local county auditor. Completed ballots must be delivered to County Election Officials on Election Day with enough time to deliver it to the relevant local precinct, so you should try to return your ballot as early as possible.

Tennessee

Registered voters in Tennessee may request mail-in ballots for a variety of reasons, but they must provide some reason. In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the only acceptable reasons are that you yourself are especially vulnerable to the virus, or that you are the caretaker of someone who is. These requirements do not require a doctor’s note, but are generally accepted through the CDC’s guidelines on COVID-19 vulnerability. Voters who qualify based on these guidelines can fill out the Tennessee Absentee Ballot Request Form and return it to their local election commission no later than Oct. 27 for the general election. Completed ballots must be received no later than close of polls on Election Day.

Texas

The Texas Supreme Court has expressly forbidden COVID-19 as a reason to vote by mail. Technically, registered Texas voters can select the disabilities option if they feel they are at particular risk of contracting a dangerous case of COVID-19, but even that isn’t expressly allowed, or considered acceptable as a reason to vote by mail. Any Texas voter who meets the state’s strict requirements can apply to vote by mail using a printable form. The form must then be mailed to the county clerk or election administration in each specific county. Applications must be received by Oct. 23. Completed ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Utah

All registered voters in Utah receive ballots in the mail automatically. Simply complete your ballot, then make sure that it is postmarked the day before Election Day.

Vermont

Registered voters in Vermont may request ballots online or by mailing in a printed form that can be sent to the local town clerk. All requests must be made by 5 p.m. on the day before Election Day. Voters can return completed ballots in their specific, signed envelope by close of business the day before Election Day.

Virginia

Virginia allows registered voters to request mail-in ballots for any reason. Voters can register using an online form or a printable PDF form that can be mailed or emailed to a local registrar’s office by 5 p.m. on the eleventh day before Election Day. Completed ballots must be delivered to your local registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Washington

Registered voters in Washington are automatically sent vote-by-mail ballots. Completed ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day and envelopes must be signed.

West Virginia

West Virginia generally only allows certain registered voters to apply for vote-by-mail ballots. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, any voter can request a ballot by selecting the “medical reasons” option on the application. Registered West Virginia voters can fill out the West Virginia Absentee Ballot Application then send it to their local County Clerk. Applications must be received by the local County Clerk by the sixth day before Election Day. Completed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day.

Wisconsin

Any Wisconsin voter can request a by-mail ballot for any reason. Registered voters can use the Application for Absentee Ballot and mail it to their local municipal clerk’s office. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. on the Thursday before Election Day and must be sent with a copy of photo ID. Completed ballots must be received no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Wyoming

Any registered voter in Wyoming may request an absentee vote-by-mail ballot. To request an vote-by-mail ballot in Wyoming, you will need to contact your local county clerk by email, call, mail, or fill out the online form, and provide them with your full name, date of birth, address, mailing address, the fact that you’re requesting a ballot for the general election, your political party affiliation, and a statement that you are eligible to vote in this election. Completed ballots must be received by the county clerk by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

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