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An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable or unwilling to attend the official polling station to which the voter is normally allocated. Numerous methods have been devised to facilitate this. Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots is seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some countries require that a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot.


Voting at a different polling stationEdit

Among countries where voters are allocated to one or several specific polling station(s) (such as the polling station closest to the voter's residential address, or polling stations within a particular district, province or state), some countries provide a mechanism by which voters can nevertheless cast their ballots on election day at a different polling station.

The reasons for allocating voters to specific polling stations are generally logistical. Absentee voting at a different polling station might be catered for by, for example, designating some larger polling stations as available for absentee voting, and equipping such polling stations with the ballot papers (or the means to produce ballot papers) applicable to an absentee voter.

In the electoral terminology of some countries, such as Australia, "absentee voting" means specifically a vote cast at a different polling station to one to which the voter has been allocated. "Early voting", "proxy voting" or "postal voting" are separate concepts in these countries.

Postal votingEdit

In a postal vote, the ballot papers are posted out to the voter – usually only on request – who must then fill them out and return them, often with some form of certification by a witness and their signature to prove their identity.

Proxy votingEdit

To cast a proxy vote, the user appoints someone as their proxy, by authorizing them to cast or secure their vote in their stead. The proxy must be trusted by the voter, as in a secret ballot there is no way of verifying that they voted for the correct candidate. In an attempt to solve this, it is not uncommon for people to nominate an official of their chosen party as their proxy.

Internet votingEdit

Corporations sometimes use Internet voting in shareholder elections (i.e., "at annual or special meetings for members of the board of directors, and on certain issues relating to the organization or governance of the company.").[1]

In the 2012, French citizens living abroad were permitted to cast vote electronically in French parliamentary elections (but not in presidential elections). In 2017, however, the system was dropped after the French National Cybersecurity Agency assessed an "extremely high risk" of cyberattacks in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[2] Similarly, electronic voting was banned in the Netherlands in 2007, and in 2017 Dutch authorities also abandoned electronic vote counting, conducting an all-paper, all-manual vote count in an effort to block foreign interference in its elections.[3]

In Switzerland, six cantons are conducting an electronic voting pilot program. In three cantons, Swiss voters resident abroad may vote electronically; in the cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel, "some of the electorate living in the canton" may also vote electronically. Since June 2016, in the canton of Basel Stadt, both Swiss voters resident abroad and persons with disabilities living within the canton may vote using an electronic system.[4]

Since 2005, Estonia has allowed voters to cast votes via the Internet (encrypted to protect voter anonymity); 2% of Estonians cast ballots via the Internet initially, and 25% did so in 2011.[5] The Estonian Internet-voting system uses the Estonian national identity card, which is associated with a PINs unique to each voter: "all Estonians are issued a government ID with a scannable chip and a PIN number that gives them a unique online identity — they can use this identity to file their taxes or pay library fines or buy bus passes."[5]

Texas law allows American astronauts who cannot vote in person and are unable to vote via absentee ballot such as those aboard the International Space Station and Mir space station cast their ballots electronically, via email, from orbit since 1997. Ballots are sent via secure email to the Johnson Spaceflight Center and then passed on to the astronauts' home counties in Texas. The first American to cast a ballot from space was astronaut David Wolf.[6] Washington voters who are military or overseas may return their ballots by email to their county elections department as an alternative to the standard vote-by-mail system.[7]

Absentee ballot examplesEdit


In Australia the term "absentee ballot" refers specifically to the procedure used when a voter attends a voting place which is not in the electoral district in which they are registered to vote. Instead of marking the ballot paper and putting it in the ballot box, the voter's ballot paper is placed in an envelope and then it is sent by the voting official to the voter's home district to be counted there.[8]

Postal voting and early voting are separate procedures also available to voters who would not be in their registered electoral districts on a voting day.


In all German elections, postal votes are available on demand. The requirement for an excuse has been removed in 2008 for elections on the federal level.[9]


As of now, India does not have an absentee ballot system for all citizens. In a restricted sense, The Representation of the People Act-1950[10] (RPA) section 20(8) allows people such as people on polling duty and serving in armed forces, and Head of state like President to vote in absentia through postal means.[11][12][13]

Section 20 of the RPA-1950 disqualifies a non-resident Indian (NRI) from getting his/her name registered in the electoral rolls. Consequently, it also prevents an NRI from casting his/her vote in elections to the Parliament and to the State Legislatures. In August 2010, Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill-2010 which allows voting rights to NRI's was passed in both Lok Sabha with subsequent gazette notifications on Nov 24, 2010.[14] With this NRI's will now be able to vote in Indian elections but have to be physically present at the time of voting. Recently several civic society organizations have urged the government to amend the RPA act to allow NRI's and people on the move to cast their vote through absentee ballot system.[15][16][17]

Republic of IrelandEdit

In the Republic of Ireland, postal votes are used in Seanad Éireann elections for the university constituencies and the vocational panels, both of which have restricted franchises. Otherwise, postal voting is only available in a restricted set of circumstances. The Irish constitution requires a secret ballot and the courts have interpreted this quite narrowly. Postal votes are available to people who by reason of their occupation cannot vote normally. They are also available to students living away from home, to people with disabilities, to prisoners (since January 2007), and to long term residents of hospitals, nursing homes and other similar institutions.


Israel does not have an absentee ballot system for all citizens. Absentee ballots are restricted to soldiers, prisoners, sailors, overseas diplomats, disabled persons and hospitalized people. The votes are not cast directly but placed in a double envelope with identifying information and counted directly by the elections committee only after verifying that the voter has not voted at his official polling station. Most absentee ballots are cast the day of the elections in alternate polling stations. Early voting is limited to civil servants overseas. There is no postal voting.


In the Netherlands, liberalised proxy voting is available. Voters can authorise someone else to cast their ballot without having to go through a registration procedure. Voters can cast a maximum of 2 proxy votes along with their own ballot. Postal ballots and Internet voting are only available to Dutch citizens living abroad, or having occupational duties abroad on election day.[18]


As provided by the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, absentee voting in Philippine elections is only available in certain circumstances, such as for Overseas Filipino Workers or other migrants. Votes must be cast in person at select polling places, such as a consulate office; mail-in ballots are an option for Filipinos in select countries. Local absentee voting as pursuant to Republic Act No. 7166 and Executive Order No. 157 is only available for members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and government personnel on duty on election day.[19] The absentee voting in both overseas and local is still manual vote counting system.

Recently, absentee voting in Hong Kong and Singapore was done through the optical scan voting due to COMELEC Resolution No. 8806 in the 2010 general elections.[20]

Absentee voters can only vote for candidates elected by the entire electorate: the President, Vice President, senators, and party-list representatives.


In Poland, each citizen registered in the local voters' register, can get an absentee voter's certificate (AVC), which is a piece of paper with the person's details and the local government's stamp. The person can vote with AVC at every polling station countrywide and worldwide (in Polish embassies and consulates; the polling stations abroad are created by the Minister of Foreign Affairs before every elections). An AVC is issued only for President of Poland elections, parliamentary elections and elections to the European Parliament (in that case, the AVC can be got by Polish or EU citizen, so the EU citizen can vote for Polish deputies at polling station in Poland and Polish embassies or consulates, or for deputies from the country of origin. Although, if the EU citizen registers himself in the Polish voters' register, the local officials informs appropriate office in the country of origin). In case of Senate by-elections, AVC may be issued only for voters living and registered in given single-member constituency.

A postal voting and proxy voting are also possible. Postal voting is possible both in country and abroad, but proxy voting is possible only in Poland. The proxy must be registered at the same local voters' register as a voter. The mail with the voter's ballot in postal voting is free of charge in Poland, but voter resides abroad must pay to send his ballot to the appropriate consulate.


Swiss federal law allows postal voting in all federal elections and referenda,[21] and all cantons also allow it for cantonal ballot issues. All voters receive their personal ballot by mail and may either cast it at a polling station or mail it back.


Absentee balloting started in Thailand first time in the 2000 general election. It is promulgated according to a provision in the 1997 constitution. The absentee ballot can be cast within Thailand and in foreign countries, where Thailand has diplomatic missions. Voters can cast the absentee ballot in 2 cases: (1) those who have their household registration in their constituency but will not be at their constituency on the election day, and wish to cast their vote in advance; and (2) those who physically reside in other locations out of their constituency at least 90 days prior to the election day, and will not be able to travel back to their constituency on the election day.

In both cases, voters wishing to cast their absentee ballot must register with the election committee 30 days in advance prior to the general election date. Voters within Thailand can cast their vote either at the designated district offices for absentee voting in their provinces or through mail. Likewise, voters overseas can register to vote with the Thai missions in their country of residence or send the ballot to them by mail. The absentee voting date is normally designated a week ahead of the general election date.[22][23]

United KingdomEdit

In all United Kingdom elections, postal votes are available on demand – no reason must be given – although a vote rigging scandal involving postal votes marred the 2004 Birmingham local election.[24]

United StatesEdit

No-excuse early voting in U.S. states, as of September, 2014.
  in-person and postal
  in-person only
  postal only

In the United States, absentee voting takes place "by mail-in paper ballot prior to the day of the election."[25] Typically, "the voter may return the ballot by mail or in person."[25]

The National Conference of State Legislatures notes:

States typically require that a voter fill out an application to receive an absentee ballot. Many states help facilitate this process by making absentee ballot applications available online for voters to print and send, and at least five states (Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Utah) permit a voter to submit an application entirely online. Arizona has some counties that have online absentee ballot applications, and in Detroit, Michigan, voters can request an absentee ballot through a smartphone app.

While all states offer some version of absentee voting, there is quite a lot of variation in states' procedures. For instance, some states offer "no-excuse" absentee voting, allowing any registered voter to request an absentee without requiring that the voter state a reason for his/her desire to vote absentee. Some states also allow a time period before the election for voters to appear at the elections office or other designated location in person to request, fill out and cast an absentee ballot in one stop. Still other states permit voters to vote absentee only under a limited set of circumstances.[25]

As of March 2017, an excuse is required to vote by mail in 20 states, while in 27 states and the District of Columbia, any qualified voter may vote absentee without offering an excuse.[25] Eight states and D.C. maintain a "permanent absentee ballot" list; "once a voter asks to be added to the list, s/he will automatically receive an absentee ballot for all future elections."[25]

Three states—Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—conduct all elections by mail, sending ballots by post to all eligible voters in each election.[25] In Oregon[26] and Washington, counties provide drop boxes throughout the county to allow voters to drop off their ballot on or prior to election day, rather than paying postage by sending it through the mail.[27] In 19 other states, certain elections may be held by mail.[25]

As noted by the U.S. Postal Service's Domestic Mail Manual, the voter must typically pay postage for mailing his or her absentee ballot, but "balloting materials for any election ... must indicate in a prominent location that the proper amount of postage must be paid."[28] Balloting materials may be sent via the U.S. Postal Service without prepayment of postage for "members of the Armed Forces in active service (and their spouses and dependents)"; "members of the U.S. Merchant Marine and their spouses and dependents"; and "U.S. citizens residing outside the territorial limits of the United States and the District of Columbia and their spouses and dependents residing with or accompanying them."[28]

It is sometimes inaccurately claimed that absentee ballots are not counted unless the race is close; in fact, all valid absentee ballots are counted even if they will not affect the outcome of the election.[29][30][31]

American citizens who are overseas, including active members of the military, are covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act that, among other things, provides for a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot which may be used in place of absentee ballots provided under state laws. The Federal Voting Assistance Program is a government program that assists such voters and exercises other authority under this act. This has been supplemented by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.

Absentee ballot for the 2008 General Election

In 1997 the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing residents to cast absentee ballots from space, because of the presence of the NASA Johnson Space Center and the astronauts that live in the Houston metropolitan area.[32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Exercise your Shareholder Voting Rights in Corporate Elections, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, SEC Pub. No. 028 (4/10).
  2. ^ France drops electronic voting for citizens abroad over cybersecurity fears, Reuters (March 6, 2017).
  3. ^ Josh Lowe, Netherlands Abandons Electronic Vote Counting Amid Hacking Fears, Newsweek (March 6, 2017).
  4. ^ Electronic voting, Swiss Confederation.
  5. ^ a b Brad Plumer, Estonia gets to vote online. Why can’t America?, Washington Post (November 6, 2012).
  6. ^ "Astronauts beam votes home". CNN. 2 November 2010.
  7. ^ "Military and Overseas Voters". Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
  8. ^ Australian Electoral Commission. "Voting within Australia – Frequently Asked Questions". AEC. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  9. ^ Briefwahl nun ohne Hinderungsgrund möglich (in German)
  10. ^ Representation of the People Act-1950 Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Who can vote by postal ballot?". timesofindia-economictimes. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  12. ^ "Election Commission to ensure postal votes don't get invalid". dna. 7 November 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  13. ^ "Pranab to become first president to cast vote via postal ballot". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  14. ^ PTI. "Govt. issues notification for NRI voting rights". The Hindu. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  15. ^ Petition for Absentee Voting in Indian Elections Archived April 16, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "THE CITY OF BRIDGES". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  17. ^ "Welcome -". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  18. ^ "Homepage Parlement & Politiek". Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  21. ^ Federal Statute on Political Rights , SR/RS 161.1 (E·D·F·I), art. 8 (E·D·F·I)
  22. ^ "การเลือกตั้งนอกเขตจังหวัด [The procedure of absentee ballot voting]". Archived from the original on 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
  23. ^ "วิธีการเลือกตั้งนอกราชอาณาจักร [The procedure of absentee ballot voting in foreign countries)". Retrieved 2011-01-15.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ "Judge upholds vote-rigging claims". BBC News. April 4, 2005.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Absentee and Early Voting, National Conference of State Legislators (March 20, 2017).
  26. ^ "Oregon Secretary of State: Oregon Drop Box Locator". Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  27. ^ Washington State's Vote-By-Mail Experience
  28. ^ a b "Section 703: Nonprofit Standard Mail and Other Unique Eligibility". Domestic Mail Manual. United States Postal Service.
  29. ^ "The Facts on 10 Common Election Misconceptions" (PDF). The Canvass, an Elections Newsletter for Legislatures. No. 63. National Conference of State Legislatures. October 2015.
  30. ^ "Absentee voting myths vs. realities". Federal Voting Assistance Program/U.S. Army. September 25, 2014.
  31. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about absentee voting". Federal Voting Assistance Program.
  32. ^ (October 21, 2004) Democracy in Orbit: Chiao to Vote in Space NASA

External linksEdit