Vision 2020: Are absentee votes and mail-in votes different?

Associated Press

What’s the difference between absentee voting and mail voting?

There really isn’t any difference between absentee voting and mail voting. Both refer to the practice of filling out ballots that are sent to voters through the mail and returned either that way or at drop boxes or other designated places to deposit ballots.

Susan Avery, of Brattleboro, Vt., fills out the November election ballot that she received in the mail on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.
Brian Kruse, Douglas County Election Commissioner, poses next to a newly installed ballot drop box in Omaha, Neb., Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

President Donald Trump has tried to confuse the two terms by claiming that absentee balloting is fine, while mail balloting is not. Absentee voting, the president sometimes argues, means someone has to proactively request a ballot as opposed to automatically getting one in the mail, which he calls mail voting.

The problem is that some states call ballots that people request through the mail “mail ballots.” Others call them absentee ballots. Both versions of ballots are processed and counted the same way. The two terms are used interchangeably with no legal distinction – the Trump campaign acknowledged this in a filing in a lawsuit it filed over Pennsylvania’s voting procedures.


Vision 2020 is a new series from the AP dedicated to answering commonly asked questions from our audience about the 2020 U.S. presidential election.