When Can You Vote by Absentee Ballot?
Massachusetts allows voting by absentee ballot only if you meet at least one of these three criteria:
- You will be absent from your city or town on election day.
- You have a physical disability that prevents your voting at the polling place.
- You cannot vote at the polls due to religious beliefs.
If you meet at least one of those criteria, you may have an absentee ballot mailed to you or you may vote at your city or town hall .
To be counted, a completed ballot must be received by the time the polls close on Election Day.
How Can You Get an Absentee Ballot?
You must apply in writing to your city or town clerk or election commission to have an absentee ballot mailed to you. Submit your application early to allow sufficient time for the ballot to be mailed to you and then for you to return the ballot by the close of polls on election day. For information on your town’s election officials, click here.
If you wish to vote by absentee ballot for more than one election in a year, you may make one application and request that ballots for all elections during that calendar year be sent to you. Note: If your address changes within a calendar year, you must submit a new application for an absentee ballot. This is especially important for college students who are usually focused on an academic year, not a calendar year.
If you are permanently disabled, you may file a doctor’s letter with the local election office which states that you are permanently unable to vote at the polls due to a physical disability. The local election office will automatically mail you an application for an absentee ballot for all elections in a calendar year. You must sign the application and send it back to your local election official.
You can get an absentee ballot request form from your city or town clerk or election commission, or you can download the form here, print it out, fill it in and send it to your election official. You can also write a letter to request an absentee ballot. That letter should include your name, address as registered, ward or precinct if you know it, address where you want the absentee ballot sent, which party ballot you want if the election is a primary (you must be registered to vote in the party you request or you must be unenrolled in any party), and your signature.
You can also go to your town election official’s office before the election, fill out the absentee ballot form there, and then receive and vote your absentee ballot and turn it in, all in one visit. Call the clerk’s office to make certain that the absentee ballots are available. Absentee ballots should be available three weeks before an election.
A member of a voter’s family can also request that an absentee ballot be sent to the voter. Download the form here to request an absentee ballot for a family member.
The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is noon the day before the election. It is best to apply as soon as you are aware you may not be able to vote in person on Election Day. Applying the day before the election does not give election officials time to mail an absentee ballot to a voter and have it returned; voters can, however, apply in person the day before and vote their absentee ballot right after they apply.
Voting and Returning an Absentee Ballot
Once your election official receives your request for an absentee ballot, the ballot with voting instructions will be mailed to you. Note that, if a family member requests an absentee ballot for you, that ballot must be mailed to you, it cannot be handed to your family member.
Detailed instructions on how to fill out the absentee ballot and how to return it are included with your absentee ballot. You can either mail the ballot back to your election official or you or a family member can hand-deliver it to your town election official. Your completed ballot cannot be delivered directly to your polling place on Election Day.
Absentee ballots do not have to be witnessed or notarized.
To be counted, a completed absentee ballot must be received by your election official by the time the polls close on Election Day.
Do You Have to be a Registered Voter to Vote by Absentee Ballot?
Yes, unless you are a “specially qualified voter.” A specially qualified voter is a person:
- who is otherwise eligible to register as a voter and
- whose present domicile is outside the United States and whose last domicile in the United States was Massachusetts or whose present domicile is Massachusetts and who is:
- absent from the city or town or residence and in the active service of the armed forces or in the merchant marine of the United States or a spouse or dependent of such person;
- absent from the commonwealth; or
- confined in a correctional facility or a jail, except if by reason of felony conviction.
What are the Provisions for Absentee Voting for those in the Military or Living Overseas?
For complete information on absentee voting in Massachusetts for those in military service or living overseas, click here.