Can I Vote in Person if I Have an Absentee Ballot?
You’ve decided you want to vote in person, but you had originally planned to vote with a mail-in or absentee ballot. Will your state let you vote at the polls? Beth Seymour explains how she navigated this process to make sure her voice was heard in an important election.
There are many reasons why you might change your mind about the method you’ll use to cast your vote.
You may have requested an absentee or mail-in ballot for an election but never received it. Or perhaps you completed and mailed your ballot, but you’re worried it won’t arrive at your local election office in time to be counted. It’s also possible you requested an absentee ballot because you expected to be away from your district on Election Day, but now find you’ll be able to vote in person after all.
Are you eligible to vote in person even if you’ve already requested a mail-in ballot? Yes, you may be eligible in some states, although the process and conditions vary by state.
Meet Beth Seymour - She decided to vote in person
Beth Seymour went above and beyond to make sure her first chance to vote in a presidential election would count in 2020, when she wasn’t sure if her absentee ballot would be delivered by her state’s election deadline. In her conversation with U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote), Beth Seymour describes her actual journey to the ballot box, and why civic participation is so important to her.
Beth, you are registered to vote in Connecticut where a person must have a qualified excuse to cast an absentee ballot. What was the circumstance that caused you to request an absentee ballot in 2020?
I was attending college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the time.
How great that you planned ahead to apply for an absentee ballot to vote as a college student. Could you explain how the process progressed from applying, to receiving, to returning your ballot?
Prior to the election, I was anxious to ensure I had an absentee ballot secured as I knew I would be at school during the election. Before I left for school in September, I went to town hall and filled out a form to make sure I had an absentee ballot for the Fall.
When I received the ballot in the mail, I carefully filled it out and mailed it back (I even went out and bought stamps to do so!). Although it was not my first time voting, it was my first time filling out an absentee ballot, so I made sure to follow the instructions closely and sign in all the necessary spots.
Once I mailed it back in, I was anxious to make sure there were no issues with my vote, and asked my friends if they had received confirmation if their ballot was counted. I was aware there had been issues with funding for the postal service and delayed deliveries due to the pandemic.
One of my friends told me she was concerned as well and had called town hall to confirm they received it from her. She suggested I do the same just to make sure it was received.
What did you learn when you called your election office?
When I called town hall, they transferred me to about four people before someone answered if they received my ballot. The office asked me if I had registered to vote, I confirmed I had been registered to vote since I turned 18 and I had voted in the past.
They asked me if I had even filled out an absentee ballot, I confirmed I had and reported the date I mailed it back in. The election official reported they had no record of this. I responded by saying I still had my explanation of how to fill out the ballot and could show her I received my ballot.
The official told me that if they did not have it, the ballot was obviously lost in the mail and my vote was not counted. I asked if there was anything I could do as it was only a few days before the election, and she told me I would have to vote in person.
I discussed I was at school four hours away and had class, and she told me if I wanted to vote my only option was come back to Connecticut the day of the election and vote in person.
Upon receiving that information, you had a big decision to make. What variables did you consider when deciding whether to drive to Connecticut to vote in person?
I considered trying to register in Pennsylvania but was concerned it was too close to the election.
I debated not voting, but felt very disappointed as I have always been proud of the privilege to vote. I have been educated on the discrepancy in voting in the United States and have always been an advocate for getting out the vote.
I had classes online at this time and we had a mandated Covid testing policy throughout the week at my school. These tests were to promote the safety of students during the height of the pandemic.
The punishment for missing these tests was suspension, which was not something I was willing to risk. I calculated how long it would take me to get home after class and be able to make it back for my test the next day, about four hours home and four hours back.
I knew voting was important to me and I wanted my vote to be counted, so I decided the sacrifice was worth it.
In addition, as it was in the middle of the week I worked to make sure my school work was finished before I left so I could make the trip home without missing assignments.
Can you describe your actual journey to the ballot box from your college dorm to your hometown polling location?
The drive from my hometown to my school is on average around four hours. I had class and school work to finish, so I had to leave my dorm as soon as I could the next day.
I had class early in the morning and left around 10 a.m., making it home to vote around 2 p.m. I had class and mandated testing the next day, so I woke up at 6 a.m. to drive back to my dorm.
Once you arrived at your election site, what happened when you explained your circumstance?
Once I arrived at the polling location, I explained what had happened to the workers and was concerned I was not registered to vote as over the phone they had questioned if I was. The election official told me I was registered and they had no record of my absentee ballot.
It’s fortunate that they were able to easily check your registration status.
In your case, you were able to cast a regular ballot after having obtained an absentee ballot, but not all voters would have this experience. In some states, voters would have to surrender their absentee ballots or cast provisional ballots. US Vote recommends that voters check out their state’s policies for voting in person after requesting an absentee ballot.
After all of this anticipation and extra effort, how did it feel to cast your ballot and know your vote would count?
I feel as though it is an immense privilege to have the right to vote and be able to make a change in this country.
Although there has been deep polarization regarding politics, voting is a constitutional right that should be utilized. Each citizen has a valid opinion and opportunity to express to the government the changes they want to see.
For me, it felt great to make sure my vote was counted. Although I am just one vote, I knew it made a difference. Even though I was disappointed with the circumstances of my lost absentee ballot, I was proud of my willingness to vote and happy to contribute to democracy.
Your father is a Social Studies teacher who provides civics education to students. How did he react to your perseverance?
My parents have always educated me on the importance of voting. Throughout history, women have fought and given their lives for this crucial constitutional right.
My father was very impressed, and felt it demonstrated a strong commitment to democracy. He was ecstatic to see his daughter as a young woman voting in her first presidential election, casting a vote to change history.
In his classes, he gives his students access to register to vote and teaches them the importance of getting the vote out, as well as about the large percentage of the population that does not vote. He was happy to discuss my situation with them and show them that each vote matters, even if there are obstacles getting there.
In 2024, do you plan to vote with an absentee ballot or in person? Do you have a plan about how to return your ballot?
In 2024, I will be voting in person. As much as I have faith that my absentee ballot issue was just bad luck, I am living back at home and have access to a polling location in Connecticut. I encourage voters to continue to vote, either through absentee or in person as each vote makes a difference. The right to vote is a privilege for all, and something we should never take for granted.
Your enthusiasm is wonderful. This time when you vote in Connecticut, you’ll have the new opportunity to vote during an early voting period, as Connecticut is beginning to implement this method of voting at polling locations. Thank you for sharing your experience, Beth.
Voters in Beth Seymour’s circumstance would benefit from several of US Vote’s tools. First, you can request your absentee ballot and track your ballot using US Vote’s services. If you request an absentee ballot but want to vote in person instead, you can check out your state’s policies to make sure you are permitted to do so. If you don’t want to put your ballot in the mail, you can also consider other options your state offers to return your ballot.