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Are mail-in and absentee ballots the same? Not in Missouri

Either way, if you plan to vote by mail: plan ahead

ST. LOUIS — In a lot of places, absentee and mail in voting are used interchangeably—they essentially mean the same thing. In Missouri, though, there are actually important distinctions in how those votes are counted.

“I think it's safe to say that there is a fair amount of confusion and concern right now on the part of voters,” said Eric Fey, Democratic Director of Elections for St. Louis County.

In Missouri, absentee voting happens when you have an accepted excuse for not being able to vote on election day. After requesting one, you’ll get the ballot in the mail—you can fill it out, get it notarized (unless you are 65 or older, you're in a nursing home, or you have certain health conditions) and send it back.

If you’re concerned about postal service delays or any other issues with your ballot arriving on time, you can return your absentee ballot in person to an election authority.

New this year in Missouri, with the coronavirus in mind, is the “mail in ballot.” Any registered voter can request one, no excuse needed. These, however, will need to be notarized and sent back in the mail in order to be counted. If you miss the deadline, you can bring the ballot to your polling place on election day, surrender it, and vote in person.

St. Louis County voters will get a tracking number to be able to see when their ballot is received and St. Louis city voters can call the election authority to get an update on the location of their ballots.

“If somebody wants to vote in-person on election day, that is fine and we will make it as safe as and convenience possible. But there will be lines. I want voters to be fully aware of that,” said Fey.

To accommodate possible USPS slowdowns, act early-- since ballots need to arrive by election day in to count in Missouri.

“The Postal Service can and will handle this volume of mail ballots. But I will say the Postal Service is having challenges and they're having staffing challenges. So everything will get processed. It's not like they can't handle it. But you do need to give them time. Their delivery standards are seven to 10 days. So you need to understand that after you request the ballots are going to take seven to 10 days for it to get to you. And then you should allow seven to 10 days for it to get back, in a worst case scenario.”

Voters are advised to mail their ballots no later than Oct. 27.

In Illinois, “absentee” and “mail in” are more synonymous. Voters can request an absentee ballot by mail, no excuse. Because of a new law to help expand mail voting, applications are actually going to be mailed out to registered voters, who can fill it out and send it back if they want a ballot delivered to them.

Those ballots need to be mailed, or dropped off at an election authority, by Nov. 3.