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Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022

Students navigate mail-in voting ahead of contentious election

Middlebury students are navigating all-new or altered absentee voting systems ahead of the general election on Nov. 3. Although absentee voting is hardly new to college campuses, the pandemic has ignited nationwide debate about mail-in voting systems. Many states have expanded voting options for the 2020 election cycle because of safety concerns during the pandemic, but implementation varies significantly from state to state.

Lily Shannon ’23 registered in Tennessee last year, but was unable to vote in the Mar. 3 primary because of a state rule stipulating that voters who register online or by mail must vote in person their first time. The law affects mostly young voters and was temporarily halted by a federal judge in September, partly because of Covid-19 concerns. Still, absentee rules for the upcoming election are not always clear.

“There are all these rules — like it says you can email your ballot request in, but then on another website it says you can’t — so it’s really confusing. Then there’s three addresses to send your ballot to just in my county alone, so I don’t know which one I’m supposed to send it to,” Shannon said.

Many students are voting from Middlebury for the first time, trying to meet deadlines and adjust to an unfamiliar mail system. Policy changes at the U.S. Postal Service coupled with the pandemic led to nationwide mail slowdowns this summer, with Vermont experiencing some of the worst delays for long-distance mail in the nation.

“I haven’t mailed anything from here yet, so this will be my first time and that’s kind of nerve-wracking. I’m confident in my ability to do it, but it’s crazy that this is the first time,” Brianna Beach ’23 said. 

Several students expressed anxiety about sending absentee ballots and not all were confident their votes will end up being counted.

“I was expecting to receive my local and state primary ballot... but that ballot got lost in the mail, and I had to go in person to re-request it. When it finally did come I had to hand it in day-of, which wasn’t going to be my intent with requesting an absentee ballot,” said Sophie Johnson ’22, who is registered to vote in New Hampshire.

Johnson was concerned that her ballot for the general election would also get lost. She visited her city hall before beginning her pre-arrival quarantine in August, trying to verify that her ballot would go to the right address in Middlebury.

“I had to call twice since coming to college — and now I think that my information is accurate and up to date — but it was a lot of phone tag,” Johnson said. “I still haven’t received my ballot, whereas one person I know from New Hampshire has received theirs and voted already, which makes me nervous that my ballot won’t get here in time.”

Beach, who votes in Georgia, also ran into issues during the primary. Georgia’s presidential primary was initially scheduled for March 24, shortly after Middlebury students were sent home because of the pandemic.

“It was a big hassle coming home. I know there was limited polling and a lot of stuff closed, and I had to figure out getting rid of my absentee ballot which I had requested in order to do it in person because I had missed the deadline,” Beach said.

Now she is voting from Middlebury for the first time. 

“I’ve been really anxious about deadlines for requesting my absentee ballot, because it’s just not something I’m super familiar with,” Beach said. “I feel confident in being able to vote, but I definitely have been thinking about the way the virus is going to impact everything in Georgia.”

Even though students are eligible to vote in Vermont, Shannon chose to vote in Tennessee because the state leans Republican and she feels her vote can do more there.

“I still obviously am going to try to vote… but whether it be some miniscule fault of mine that they count as invalid, it not getting there on time, or just being lost, I definitely don’t think [my ballot] will be counted,” Shannon said.

Five states — Oregon, Washington, Utah, Hawaii and Colorado — conduct all-mail elections, in which voters automatically receive a mail-in ballot and limited in-person voting is available the day of the election. 

“I had already set up receiving my ballots over email in previous semesters, so nothing changed at all. I still got an email with my ballot, I just have to print it off,” said Anika Heilweil ’21, who votes in Utah.

Nevada, California, Vermont, and New Jersey will join those states for the 2020 election and send mail-in ballots to all registered voters by default. Over a dozen states will also automatically send an application for a mail-in ballot to registered voters.

Many states have also implemented no-excuse absentee voting for the 2020 election cycle, meaning that voters do not need to have an approved excuse to vote absentee. These excuses typically include a voter being outside of the county they are registered in, working a shift during the times the polls are open, physical disabilities or being over 65 years of age. Others have maintained that voters must have an excuse to vote absentee, but have expanded the approved list of excuses to include concerns about vulnerability to Covid-19. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Indiana will require an excuse beyond a fear of Covid-19. 

College students residing outside of the state they are registered in are included in the excused reasons for voting absentee. Middlebury students are eligible to vote in Vermont and can register as late as the day of the election to vote absentee. 

Despite the added challenges of voting this year, students were committed to voting in the general election.

“I’ve been getting a lot of texts for canvassing and reminders to register, and this year it feels like people are really pushing for people to vote — more than ever before,” Beach said.

States have different deadlines for registering, requesting absentee ballots, and returning absentee ballots. Some have deadlines based on when mail is postmarked while others have deadlines for when mail is received. Certain states may also require a notarized ballot. Ongoing legal battles may change deadlines for registration and absentee ballot submission in several states. Information on how to vote in your state is available on state government websites or from non-partisan organizations such as vote.org. All listed dates and hours are in local time zones. 

 

ALABAMA

Incumbent Democrat Doug Jones is facing strong opposition from Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, making the state one of the few with a senate seat likely to flip from a Democrat to a Republican. 

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 29.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked one day before Election Day and received by noon on Election Day.

 

ALASKA

No close statewide or federal races.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 4

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 24.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 13.

 

ARIZONA

Arizona has voted for a Republican every year since 1952 except for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run, but many believe it is likely to flip in favor of Joe Biden this year. Arizona also has one of the most hotly contested senate races, between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Mark Kelly.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

ARKANSAS

The Democratic candidate for Senate in Arkansas dropped out, leaving incumbent Republican Tom Cotton (who is heavily favored to win) and Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. the two major names on the ballot.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 27.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

 

CALIFORNIA

California has no elections for senate or governor this cycle, but congressional districts CA-21, held by a Democrat, and CA-25, held by a Republican, are considered toss-ups. The state is automatically sending mail-in ballots to voters. 

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 20.

 

COLORADO

Colorado has a close senate race between former governor and presidential candidate John Hickenlooper and incumbent Republican Cory Gardener. Colorado conducts elections by mail.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 26

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters. The deadline to submit a mailing address change for ballots is at least eight days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7:00 P.M. on Election Day.

 

CONNECTICUT

No close statewide or federal races.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 27

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Applications automatically sent to all registered voters. Deadline to apply is one day before Election Day, but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

 

DELAWARE

No close statewide or federal elections. 

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 10

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 30.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

 

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Although D.C. residents cannot vote in presidential elections, there are several local elections occurring.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters. Submit a mailing address change for ballots to be sent to at least seven days before Election Day. 

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election day and received by Nov. 13.

 

FLORIDA

Florida is likely to be one of the closest states in the presidential election, and has a close congressional race in the Democrat-held FL-26.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Postmarked by 5 p.m. on Oct. 24

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election day

 

GEORGIA

Georgia has two close senate seats up for election, between Democrat Jon Ossof and incumbent Republican David Perdue, and between incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler and a broad field of special election challengers. The state is a toss-up for the presidential election.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 30.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

HAWAII

Conducts elections by mail.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters. The deadline to submit a mailing address change for ballots is at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day

 

IDAHO

No close statewide or federal races.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 9

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

 

ILLINOIS

The IL-13 congressional district leans in favor of incumbent Republican Rodney Davis.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 6

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 29.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received no later than Nov. 17.

 

INDIANA

A congressional seat in the IN-05 is open and is a toss-up that leans slightly in favor of Republicans.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 22.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by noon on Election Day.

 

IOWA

Iowa has a surprisingly close senate race, in one of the reddest states with the potential to elect a Democrat this cycle. Incumbent Republican Joni Ernst faces a tough challenge from Democrat Theresa Greenfield. The IA-01, IA-02, and IA-03 are also all congressional seats held by Democrats that have the potential to flip to Republicans.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 24

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 24.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by Nov. 9.

 

KANSAS

Democratic challenger Barbara Bollier has an uphill battle to the senate seat against incumbent Republican Roger Marshall, but has drawn on her credentials as a doctor to make this seat competitive.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 27.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received no later than Nov. 6.

 

KENTUCKY

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is almost certain to win his re-election bid, Amy McGrath has mounted a serious campaign against him.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 9.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 6.

 

LOUISIANA

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 4

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 2.

 

MAINE

Democratic challenger Sara Gideon seems poised to defeat incumbent Republican Susan Collins, in a state that favors Biden but could split some electoral votes in favor of Trump.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 29.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by Election Day.

 

MARYLAND

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 20.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day, received by 10 a.m. on Nov. 13.

 

MASSACHUSETTS

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 24

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 28.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 6.

 

MICHIGAN

All eyes have been on Michigan this election, since the state unexpectedly went for Donald Trump in 2016 by the narrowest margin of victory in the nation. It seems likely to flip back in favor of Biden this year. The senate race leans in favor of Democratic incumbent Gary Peters over Republican John James, and is one of the only senate seats currently held by a Democrat that is competitive. Several congressional districts are competitive, including the MI-03, M-06, MI-08 and MI-11.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received on or before Election Day, pending ongoing lawsuit.

 

MINNESOTA

Although Trump did not win Minnesota, this was another state where he outperformed polls and came much closer to a victory than predicted. Some say this is one of the only states that could flip in favor of the president, but polls put Biden ahead by a relatively wide margin. Tina Smith, Democratic incumbent who is likely but not guaranteed to hold her senate seat, is also up for re-election. Competitive house races are the MN-01, MN-02 and MN-07.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received one day before Election Day but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10.

 

MISSISSIPPI

Democrat Mike Espy has run a tough campaign, but incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith looks likely to keep her senate seat.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: No specific deadline, recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10.

 

MISSOURI

Missouri has a somewhat competitive gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Mike Parson and Democrat Nicole Galloway, and one competitive house race in the MO-02. 

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 7

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 21.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

MONTANA

Montana is another deep red state with a competitive senate race, where current Democratic governor Steve Bullock is running against incumbent Republican Steve Daines. Montana’s open gubernatorial race between Democrat Mike Cooney and Republican Greg Gianforte is also close. Gianforte’s current position as the at-large representative for Montana leans slightly in favor of Republican candidate Matt Rosendale, but Democrat Kathleen Williams has polled ahead of him in recent weeks. 

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 26 and received by Oct. 29.

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by noon on Nov. 2, but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

 

NEBRASKA

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 16

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 23.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by Election Day.

 

NEVADA

The Democrat-held NV-03 is strongly favored to remain with Democrats, but is competitive.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 6

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Incumbents are favored in all the New Hampshire races except for president, with Democrat Jeanne Shaheen heavily favored to be re-elected to the senate, the Democrat Chris Pappas likely to be re-elected in the NH-01, and Republican Chris Sununu likely to be re-elected in the gubernatorial race.

Registration deadline: Varies by county, with earliest deadlines on Oct. 21

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Nov. 2.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Election Day.

 

NEW JERSEY

New Jersey has competitive house races in the NJ-02, NJ-03 and NJ-07.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 10.

 

NEW MEXICO

The Democrat-held NM-02 is a competitive toss-up that leans slightly in favor of the incumbent.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 6

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 20.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

NEW YORK

The state has several competitive congressional districts, including the NY-01, NY-02, NY-11, NY-22 and NY-24.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 9 and received by Oct. 14.

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Postmarked by Oct. 27, but recommended at least 15 days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 10.

 

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina went for Trump in 2016 and is a toss-up again in this election. Incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham are in a close race for the senate seat, and the state’s gubernatorial election leans slightly in favor of incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper over Republican Dan Forest. The NC-08 seat leans in favor of its Republican incumbent but is competitive.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 9

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5:00 P.M. on Oct. 27.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 6.

 

NORTH DAKOTA

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Does not require registration.

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Nov. 2, but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by Nov. 9.

 

OHIO

Ohio has shifted more Republican in recent years but is a toss-up between Trump and Biden. The Republian-held OH-01 is a competitive toss-up.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by noon on Oct. 31, but Oct. 27 or earlier is recommended.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Nov. 2 and received by Nov. 13.

 

OKLAHOMA

The Democrat-held OK-05 is a competitive toss-up.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 9

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

OREGON

The Democrat-held OR-04 leans in favor of the incumbent but is competitive.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to registered voters. Submit address change at least five days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8:00 P.M. on Election Day.

 

PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania is a state Biden will almost certainly have to win for an electoral college majority, which he is slightly favored to do. The state has several competitive congressional districts, including the PA-01, PA-07, PA-08, PA-10, and PA-17.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 27.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6.

 

RHODE ISLAND

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 4

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 4 p.m. on Oct. 13.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

Incumbent Republican Lindsey Graham looks likely to hold his senate seat against the strong challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison, but the race has been close for South Carolina. The SC-01 leans slightly in favor of its Democratic incumbent.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 24.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

SOUTH DAKOTA

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Nov. 2, but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by Election Day.

 

TENNESSEE

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 27.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by Election Day.

 

TEXAS

Although the state leans heavily Republican, recent Texas polls generally show Biden and Trump in a statistical tie. Incumbent Republican senator John Cornyn is likely to hold his seat but has seen a strong challenge from Democrat M.J. Hegar. The state has several competitive congressional districts, including TX-03, TX-07, TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-23 and TX-24.

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 5

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 23.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 4.

 

UTAH

The UT-04, held by a Democrat, is a toss-up. 

Registration deadline: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Ballots automatically sent to all registered voters. Submit an address change at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked one day before Election Day. Reception deadline varies by county.

 

VERMONT

Vermont allows voters to register up to and through Election Day and will mail a ballot to all registered voters in 2020. Middlebury students are eligible to vote in the state of Vermont.

Registration deadline: Received by Nov. 3

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Nov. 2 but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

VIRGINIA

The VA-02, VA-05 and VA-07 are competitive house races. 

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 23.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by noon on Nov. 6.

 

WASHINGTON

The house race in WA-03 is likely to go in favor of incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler but is competitive.  

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 26

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Automatically sent to all registered voters. Contact the county elections department to request a ballot be forwarded to a different address.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by election day and received by Nov. 23.

 

WEST VIRGINIA

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 13

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Oct. 28.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 9.

 

WISCONSIN

Trump won Wisconsin by less than one percent in 2016, and it is one of the competitive states Biden will likely need to win to receive a majority in the electoral college. The WI-03 is likely to re-elect Democrat Ron Kind. 

Registration deadline: Postmarked by Oct. 14, though this may change due to an ongoing lawsuit.

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 29.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, with possible extensions due to an ongoing lawsuit that is likely to be appealed.

 

WYOMING

No close statewide or federal elections.

Registration deadline: Received by Oct. 19

Deadline to request an absentee ballot: Received by Nov. 2 but recommended at least seven days before Election Day.

Deadline to turn in ballot: Received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

 

Unless otherwise noted, registration deadlines are for registering by mail. Some states offer online registration options, but deadlines may differ from mail-in registration.

Some voter registration and absentee ballot rules may change due to ongoing legal battles in several states.

Sources for race ratings include FiveThirtyEight’s senate election forecast, 270toWin’s house ratings table and interactive map, 270toWin’s presidential election consensus electoral map, CNN’s race ratings map, the Cook Political Report’s house and senate race ratings and the Cook Political Report’s governor race ratings.

News Editor Abigail Chang ’23 contributed reporting.


Tony Sjodin

Tony Sjodin ’23 is the senior news editor.

He previously served as community council correspondent, senior writer, and news editor.

At Middlebury, Sjodin studies political science with a focus on  international and comparative politics. Outside of class, he leads  kayaking and hiking trips with the Middlebury Mountain Club, volunteers  with WildMidd, and interns virtually with the Regional Environmental Hub  for Central America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Embassy in Costa  Rica.


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