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.
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.
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.
Corporations and organizations routinely use Internet voting to elect officers and Board members and for other proxy elections.
Internet voting systems have been used privately in many modern nations and publicly in the United States, France, the UK, Switzerland and Estonia. Several cantons (Geneva, Neuchâtel and Zürich) have run pilot programs to allow citizens to vote via the Internet since 2001. or by SMS. Approval of the pilot experience has led to the expansion of the program to include an additional canton and Swiss living abroad. voters obtain their passwords to access the ballot through the postal service. Most voters in Estonia can cast their vote in local and parliamentary elections, if they want to, via the Internet, as most of those on the electoral roll have access to an e-voting system. It has been assisted by the fact that most Estonians carry a national identity card equipped with a computer-readable microchip and it is these cards which they use to get access to the online ballot. All a voter needs is a computer, an electronic card reader, their ID card and its PIN, and they can vote from anywhere in the world. Estonian e-votes can only be cast during the days of advance voting. On Election Day itself people have to go to polling stations and fill in a paper ballot.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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. 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.
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.
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 № 7166 and Executive Order № 157 is only available for members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and government personnel on duty on election day. 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 № 8806 in the 2010 general elections.
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 deputees at polling station in Poland and polish embassies or consulates, or for deputees 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, 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.
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 2005 Birmingham local election.
In the United States, an absentee ballot is a ballot that the voter records and casts at a location other than the designated polling station on Election Day. Typically these ballots are mailed, though some states provide provisions for emailing ballots, faxing ballots, or delivering them in person to a designated location. Typically a voter must request an absentee ballot at least a week before the election occurs. Each State's Secretary of State or Director of Elections is in charge of the election process, including voter registration and absentee ballot requests. Balloting materials may be sent via the United States Postal Service without prepayment of postage for members of the Armed Forces, members of the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. citizens residing outside the territorial limits of the United States and the District of Columbia and their spouses.
Absentee voting by mail is allowed with no excuse in 28 states, and with an excuse in 22. No-excuse permanent absentee voting is allowed in 4 states. Early voting in person is allowed with no excuse required in 31 U.S. states, with an excuse in 3, and not at all in 16. The District of Columbia does not require an excuse for either early voting or absentee voting.
Voters (usually) mark their ballots, which may be an optically read ballot marked with a pen or pencil, or may be a punched card ballot. They then mail the ballot to the state, or may bring the ballot in person to a designated location.
Each state has different laws regulating when absentee ballots must be counted, and who does the counting. Most states count absentee ballots on Election Day which can continue for several days after. The deadline is 10 days after Election day for Washington, D.C., and for overseas absentee ballots sent to Florida, while California states that it may take up to 30 days (28 days for presidential electors and 30 days for all other contests) for county elections officials to verify voter records and determine if ballots have been cast by eligible voters. Despite anecdotal reports to the contrary, all valid absentee ballots are to be counted even if they will not affect the outcome of the election.
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.
Voting in the states of Oregon, Washington, and Colorado are unique in regards to the rest of the nation, in that voting is conducted entirely by mail.
Ballots in Oregon are mailed to all registered voters, who are then supposed to fill out the ballot and either mail it back to the elections official or bring it to a drop box. The term "absentee ballot" in Oregon refers to mailing the ballot to the county elections official, and not merely to receiving the ballot in the mail. Oregon automatically registers all residents to vote when obtaining identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Like Oregon, the State of Washington conducts all elections via vote-by-mail. Originally, absentee ballots in Washington were mailed prior to election day to those voters who contacted their local county by indicating that they would be unable to vote at their local polling place on election day.
In 1993, the state began allowing all voters to vote by mail on a permanent basis. Since that time, voting by mail had gained in popularity, and the term "absentee ballot" had become synonymous with voting by mail. According to the Secretary of State, in 2006, over 88% of all voters cast votes using the vote-by-mail method. By then, many counties had made the switch to conducting their elections entirely by mail. The state's two largest counties (in terms of number of voters), King and Pierce, were the last two counties in the state to switch to all-mail voting. When the King County Council approved the switch in 2009, the county became the largest in the nation, in terms of number of voters, where elections are conducted entirely by mail. Pierce County's resistance to making the change led to action by the Washington State Legislature in 2011 that required the county to be in line with the rest of the state, thus making the entire state a "vote-by-mail" state.
Many 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. Ballots returned by mail need only be postmarked by election date, resulting in ballots being received by election officials over several days following an actual election.
California's Secretary of State has reported that in every general election since 1993, between 20% and 30% of ballots cast have been absentee ballots.
In the state of Maine, any voter may cast an absentee ballot and is not required to give a reason. They must fill out an application, available from the Secretary of State or their town clerk, and turn it in by hand or mail. They are then given or mailed a ballot, which must be returned to the town clerk by hand or by mail before the polls close on Election Day.
Absentee Ballot applications are available at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/absent.htm. Ballots may be requested up to three months before an election. The ballots are available 30 to 45 days before an election. Maine voters can find their town at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/clerk.htm.
Any registered Maryland voter may vote by absentee ballot. Voters are not required to provide a reason for voting via absentee ballot.
Any registered South Dakota voter may vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots are available for primary and general elections six weeks prior to the election. Absentee ballots for city and school elections are available several weeks prior to the election.
To receive a ballot by mail, a voter must file a written application for an absentee ballot with the person in charge of the election. The application must be mailed or hand delivered to the person in charge of the election. The application cannot be submitted by fax. The voter's signature on the application must be notarized or witnessed by an official who will deliver the ballot to the voter. An application for a ballot by authorized messenger must be received by the person in charge of the election before 3:00 p.m. the day of the election.
The voter must sign a statement on the absentee ballot envelope prior to returning the ballot. All voted ballots must be returned to the person in charge of the election in time to be delivered to the appropriate polling place prior to the closing of the polls.
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.