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Data: RepresentUS; Note: Montana has told counties they can opt into universal vote-by-mail; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Millions of Americans who normally vote in person on election day will turn to early voting or mail-in ballots this fall — but that only works if you understand your state's election rules, deadlines and how to ensure your vote is counted.

Driving the news: Axios is launching an interactive resource, built on research by RepresentUs, a nonpartisan election reform group, to help voters across the country to get the information they need.

  • "This election year, voters need to take more time and effort to navigate the challenges of a pandemic," U.S. Elections Assistance Commissioner Donald Palmer tells Axios.
  • It will be critical for voters to have updated information on their options "to make sure that this election is a true reflection of the will of the people," said Matt Strabone, senior counsel for RepresentUs.
Data: RepresentUS; Note:(*) Ballots will automatically be sent to voters in these states. If you are unsure whether you will be sent a ballot because you are a new voter, have been inactive or changed addresses, you can find online resources at the links for checking or updating your voter information. Montana has told counties they can opt into universal vote-by-mail; Table: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Why it matters: The more early voting there is, the greater the impacts if there are problems with the U.S. Postal Service, ballot shortages, confusion, lawsuits or delays.

  • North Carolina will be the first state to send out absentee ballots, on Sept. 4.
  • Minnesota and South Dakota will be the first states to allow voters to cast ballots early in person, starting Sept. 18.
  • Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana and New York require an excuse to vote absentee — though New York is poised to change, and more may follow.
  • 11 states require absentee ballots to be notarized, have a witness signature or be submitted with a copy of an ID. If not done properly, ballots could be tossed.
  • 32 states require mailed-in ballots to be received by Election Day, rules that could present problems if postal service delays continue through November.
  • Voters in Rhode Island have until October 13 to request absentee ballots — and Oct. 20 in New Mexico and Nevada — the earliest cut off dates for submitting absentee ballot applications.

The other side: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and D.C. are automatically sending voters mail-in ballots — not just applications, as even more states are doing.

  • Montana also has told counties they can opt into universal vote-by-mail, which all of them did in the primaries.

Between the lines: Taking advantage of early voting options could help limit crowds and long lines on election day, and lessen the risk of coronavirus infections.

What's next: Some election rules could still change. The Brennan Center is tracking litigation in 32 states, dealing with mail voting, early voting, voter purges, polling places and other election issues.

Data visualizations are being updated to reflect new voting information and rule changes.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Georgia's early voting date as Oct. 5, it is Oct. 12. It was also updated to fix incorrect links, and change early voting dates for Rhode Island and New York.

Go deeper

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules mail-in ballots can't be rejected for mismatched signatures

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that election officials cannot reject a mailed-in ballot because a voter’s signature may not resemble the one on their registration form.

Why it matters: The decision comes as a win for voting rights advocates and Democrats who say the signature disqualification rule can disenfranchise voters. In 2016, it was the top reason that ballots were rejected, with 28% of disqualified ballots flagged for non-matching signatures, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

Updated Oct 20, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on America's voting barriers

On Tuesday, October 23, Axios' Sara Kehaulani Goo, Margaret Talev, and Alexi McCammond hosted a virtual event on barriers to voting access across the country, featuring Southwest Voter Registration Education Project President Lydia Camarillo, U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chairman Benjamin Hovland, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition President Desmond Meade and "The West Wing" actors Janel Moloney and Richard Schiff.

Benjamin Hovland unpacked how to vote safely during this unprecedented year and highlighted the uptick in mail-in ballots and early voting.

  • On a notable increase in early ballots being cast: "We're seeing a surge in early in-person voting...We're already at around 30 million Americans that have already voted in the 2020 election, which is pretty remarkable."
  • On the impact of the pandemic on mail-in ballots: "About 25% of Americans vote by mail in a normal year, or in 2016. So we're going to see an increase probably closer to half."

Lydia Camarillo discussed the importance of the Latino electorate in American elections.

  • The impact on November's election: "I think that the Latino electorate can be the deciding factor in this election — in partnership with other groups like the Black community, the Muslim community, Asian American community and progressives. They will decide the election."

Desmond Meade, who helped lead the 2018 fight for Amendment 4 in Florida, unpacked the expansion of voting rights and Florida's impact on similar state-level policy changes across the country.

  • On restoring felon rights: "This thing has caught on like a wildfire. All across this country, people are really standing up. Because America is a nation of second chances. And it's showing up right now in a major way."

Janel Moloney and Richard Schiff discussed the recent "The West Wing" episode on HBO Max and the experience of reuniting as an ensemble cast.

  • Richard Schiff on the meaning of the episode: "It's a rare thing in this day and age around the world to have the privilege to vote and the right to vote. And we should be very careful to not let it be extinguished and that this episode addresses that."

Axios Vice President of Event Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Lyft Head of Policy Engagement and Strategic Partnerships Heather Foster who discussed how transportation plays a critical role in voting access.

  • "We took a look at the statistics that came out of 2016, and it was estimated at the time that more than 15 million eligible voters did not go to the polls because they lacked a way to get there."

This event was the first in a yearlong series called Hard Truths, where we'll be discussing the wide ranging impact of systemic racism in America. Read our deep dive on race and voting here.

Thank you Lyft for sponsoring this event.

The cliffhanger could be ... Georgia

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992, but Georgia's changing demographics may prove pivotal this year — not only to Trump v. Biden, but also to whether Democrats take control of the Senate.

Why it matters: If the fate of the Senate did hinge on Georgia, it might be January before we know the outcome. Meanwhile, voters' understanding of this power in the final days of the election could juice turnout enough to impact presidential results.