When can states begin processing and counting absentee/mail-in ballots?

How absentee and mail-in ballots are processed

Americans are voting in the 2020 election in record numbers by absentee and mail-in ballots.

With millions of ballots coming into election offices across the country, state officials are faced with the task of opening, processing and counting those votes.

States process ballots in preparation in different ways depending on the laws of the state. Some election officials are allowed to open the ballot, unfold it and get ready to verify and count it prior to election day.

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Other states do not allow for such preparation.

Some states have enacted specific rules for the 2020 election that govern how the ballots are processed and counted.

Below is a chart showing what states are allowed to do when it comes to processing then counting absentee and mail-in ballots.

State Absentee/mail-in ballot
processing can begin
Absentee/mail-in ballot
counting can begin
Alabama Noon on Election Day. After the polls close on Election Day.
Alaska Seven days before Election Day. 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Arizona Tallying can begin 14 days before Election Day. Results may not be released before all precincts are reporting or one hour after the closing of polls on Election Day.
Arkansas Seven days before Election Day 8:30 a.m. on Election Day.
California Processing can begin 19 days before Election Day. A vote count can be accessed or released at 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Colorado Upon receipt. Fifteen days before Election Day.
Connecticut At the discretion of the local registrar of voters. At the discretion of the local registrar of voters.
Delaware Friday before Election Day. Friday before Election Day. The vote count cannot be extracted or reported until polls close on Election Day.
District of Columbia Signatures can be verified and the secrecy envelope removed prior to tabulation. After the polls close on Election Day.
Florida Signature verification can begin at 7 a.m. 22 days before Election Day. 7 a.m. 22 days before Election Day.
Georgia Signature verification conducted upon receipt. 7 a.m. on Election Day.
Hawaii Upon receipt. Counting may start before Election Day, though exact timing is not specified.
Idaho Affidavit verified upon receipt. Ballots are not opened until they are delivered to the polls or central location for counting. After the polls close on Election Day.
Illinois Signature verification must begin within two days of receipt. 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Indiana Processing may not begin before Election Day. No later than noon on Election Day.
Iowa Affidavits may be reviewed the day before Election Day. On Election Day, at a time set by the election commissioner.
Kansas Prior to Election Day. Exact timing not specified. Ballots may be counted prior to Election Day, but final tabulation shall not be completed until Election Day.
Kentucky 8 a.m. on Election Day. Counting begins after all absentee ballots have been processed.
Louisiana Day before Election Day in a parish with 1,000 or more absentee ballots. Counting may begin before Election Day but no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Maine Four days before Election Day. After the polls close on Election Day.
Maryland After the election. 8 a.m. the Wednesday after Election Day.
Massachusetts Upon receipt. No later than an hour after the polls close on Election Day.
Michigan On Election Day On Election Day before the polls close at the jurisdiction’s discretion.
Minnesota Verification upon receipt. After the polls close on Election Day.
Mississippi On Election Day. After the polls close on Election Day.
Missouri Five days before Election Day. On Election Day.
Montana Signature verification conducted upon receipt. One day before Election Day, if using a vote-counting machine.
Nebraska Verification can begin the second Friday before Election Day. Twenty-four hours before the opening of the polls.
Nevada Signature verification conducted upon receipt. On Election Day.
New Hampshire At 1 p.m. on Election Day, unless a different time, no earlier than two hours after the opening of the polls, is posted and announced. After the polls close on Election Day.
New Jersey Signature verification conducted upon receipt. On Election Day.
New Mexico Any time after mailed ballots have been sent until the fifth day before the election, the county clerk may convene an election board to meet during normal business hours to qualify mailed ballots that are returned. Absentee ballots are inserted into vote-counting machines to be registered and retained before Election Day, but votes are not counted until after the polls close
New York On Election Day. After the polls close on Election Day.
North Carolina The fifth Tuesday before Election Day. Two weeks prior to Election Day
North Dakota The day before Election Day. After the polls close on Election Day.
Ohio Processing may begin before the time for counting ballots. Exact timing not specified. Absentee ballots may be scanned prior to the election
Oklahoma 10 a.m. on the Thursday before Election Day Prior to Election Day with approval by the secretary of the state election board.
Oregon No sooner than seven days before the election county clerks may begin opening identification and secrecy envelopes and scan ballots into a vote tally system. A person may not make public the results of the tally of votes from any precinct until after 8 p.m. on election day.
Pennsylvania At 7 a.m. on Election Day At 7 a.m. on Election Day, but the votes may not be recorded or published until after the polls close.
Rhode Island Fourteen days before Election Day 8 p.m. on Election Day
South Carolina 9 a.m. on the day before Election Day. 9 a.m. on Election Day.
South Dakota Processing may begin when sealed absentee ballots are delivered to precincts. After polls close on Election Day.
Tennessee Signature verification conducted upon receipt. On Election Day after the polls open and no later than four hours before closing for general elections.
Texas Signature and voter verification may be conducted upon receipt. When the polls open on Election Day.
Utah Processing may begin before Election Day. Counting may begin before Election Day.
Vermont The day before the election, at least one hour before depositing ballots in the vote tabulator, absentee ballot envelopes may be examined and inspected by members of the public. The day before the election, absentee ballots may be deposited in a vote tabulator.
Virginia Before Election Day as needed. Ballots may be inserted into ballot-counting machines prior to the closing of the polls, but no ballot count totals by the machines shall be initiated until the polls close.
Washington Upon receipt. 8 p.m. on Election Day.
West Virginia Absentee ballots are delivered to precincts on Election Day. On Election Day.
Wisconsin After the polls open on Election Day. After the polls open on Election Day.
Wyoming Absentee ballots are delivered to precincts on Election Day. On Election Day.
DORAL, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 15: Milena Abreu, County Judge, inspects a Vote-by-Mail ballot for a valid signature as Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board convenes ahead of the November 3rd general election at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department on October 15, 2020 in Doral, Florida. The canvassing board was verifying questionable voter’s signatures on the Vote-by-Mail ballots by comparing them to the signature on file. Voters have cast 149,683 Vote-by-Mail ballots so far and only 414 of those had been questioned. Voters head to the polls in Florida on October 19th for early in person voting for the November 3rd election where President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are facing off against each other.
DORAL, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 15: Milena Abreu, County Judge, inspects a Vote-by-Mail ballot for a valid signature as Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board convenes ahead of the November 3rd general election at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department on October 15, 2020 in Doral, Florida. The canvassing board was verifying questionable voter’s signatures on the Vote-by-Mail ballots by comparing them to the signature on file. Voters have cast 149,683 Vote-by-Mail ballots so far and only 414 of those had been questioned. Voters head to the polls in Florida on October 19th for early in person voting for the November 3rd election where President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are facing off against each other. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Getty Images)