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Expand chart
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

Oct 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democrats sound alarm on mail-in votes

Photo: J. Countess/Getty Images

Democrats are calling a last-minute audible on mail-in voting after last night's Supreme Court ruling on Wisconsin.

Driving the news: Wisconsin Democrats and the Democratic secretary of state of Michigan are urging voters to return absentee ballots to election clerks’ offices or drop boxes. They are warning that the USPS may not be able to deliver ballots by the Election Day deadline.

Judge rules South Carolina can't reject absentee ballots over signature mismatches

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A federal judge in South Carolina on Tuesday ruled that the state cannot reject absentee ballots because of signature mismatches, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: District Judge Richard Mark Gergel said the practice places "a significant burden" on voting rights, and that there is no clear standard for matching signatures. The case is among a slew of election-related litigation to have been before the federal courts during the cycle.

Supreme Court rejects second GOP effort to cut absentee ballot deadline in N.C.

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Supreme Court, for the second time in two days, rejected a GOP request to shorten the deadline mail-in ballots must be received by North Carolina officials to be counted.

The state of play: The state's deadline had been extended from 3 days to 9 days post-Election Day.