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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

Updated Oct 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court denies Pennsylvania GOP request to limit mail-in voting

Protesters outside Supreme Court. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from Pennsylvania's Republican Party to shorten the deadlines for mail-in ballots in the state. Thanks to the court's 4-4 deadlock, ballots can be counted for several days after Election Day.

Why it matters: It's a major win for Democrats that could decide the fate of thousands of ballots in a crucial swing state that President Trump won in 2016. The court's decision may signal how it would deal with similar election-related litigation in other states.

Axios-Ipsos poll: Voters of color worry about militias, arrests

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.6% margin of error; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Fears that armed militias, police or COVID-19 await them at the polls are disproportionately shaping how Americans of color think about in-person voting, according to an Ipsos poll for Axios.

Why it matters: Participation by voters of color could decide whether President Trump or Joe Biden wins, and whether Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress.

Cities brace for Election Day chaos

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Worst-case scenarios for Election Day: Illegal militias show up fully armed at polling places. People are intimidated from voting. Extremist groups launch violent protests that last for days.

Why it matters: Mayors are playing down the threats — projecting a "we've got this" tone of reassurance — but some law enforcement officials and people who monitor extremists are telling them to be prepared for anything.