Codebook –
Absentee Voting

At times, a religious person may find voting at a polling place on election day conflicts with his or her religious beliefs, for example, due to a religious observance. The absentee voting safeguard protects the ability of an individual to participate in an election at another time or by other means. Among states that require a valid reason for absentee voting, some allow religious observance as an acceptable reason to receive an absentee ballot, while others do not. Some states allow more flexible voting for all voters via all-mail elections or no-excuse absentee ballots.

Federal Context

The federal government has not enacted any notable rule dictating election practice.

External Sources

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) details the absentee voting requirements of each state in its “Voting Outside the Polling Place” report. We utilize two tables from this report: “Excuses to Vote Absentee,” which establishes the valid reasons some states require from those requesting absentee ballots, and “States with No-Excuse Absentee Voting,” which details the ways other states provide flexibility in voting, including through all-mail elections. The summary codes as well as the statute citations provided in the December 31, 2022, version of these tables allowed us to find and corroborate our reading of state laws.[1]

Identifying Codes and Assigning Scores

We read each state law cited by the NCSL, including surrounding or related law as necessary, and coded each state according to the nature of its absentee voting laws (all-mail elections, no-excuse absentee voting, excuse for religious reasons, no excuse for religious reasons).[2]

Possible Codes

A = State has all-mail elections

B = State permits no-excuse absentee voting

C = Religion is a valid reason to receive an absentee ballot

D = Religion is not an acceptable reason to receive an absentee ballot/Cannot vote absentee for religious reasons

Possible Scores

1 = Those with religious reasons have alternatives available that would facilitate absentee voting (A, B, and C)

0 = There is no recourse for religious concerns in absentee voting (D)

Verifying Data

Throughout 2022, BillTrack50 provided the RLS team with updates on relevant bills and state laws related to absentee voting and all the citations from RLS 2022 data, ultimately revealing one statutory change that impacted the code and score in a state (Rhode Island). The statutes cited for this safeguard, whether changing this year or not, were reread in December 2022 and confirmed with the updated external data source from NCSL. The research team noted the reason for any disagreement with that external source in the notes of the publicly available dataset.

Missing Data

None. All states have laws on the allowable means of voting.


[1] NCSL regularly updates these tables as state statutes change, making the most recent version of any table available at their website (

[2] In practice, early voting may provide a valuable alternative to voting on election day, too, although RLS does not consider it a perfect substitute for absentee voting in many states for three reasons: limited timeframe, limited locations, and in-person requirement. However, we are attuned to the fact that many states (46 of 50) offer early in-person voting (or what some call early in-person absentee voting) with varying time periods and qualification requirements or none at all. Missouri (§115.277), though, is the only state that both requires an excuse for early voting and accepts religion as one of them. Most states that mention qualifications for early voting seem motivated by physical disability. Still, based on RLS methodology, which requires that only one state indicate religious concern as a motivation for its law, future iterations of this project will consider this a potential safeguard of free exercise. Since it is not clearly a substitute for absentee voting in the way all-mail elections are, including early voting would introduce a new item, existing alongside the existing absentee voting item, within a safeguard. We table this potential change for future iterations of the project, but recommend NCSL’s “Early In-Person Voting” for those who are interested in the current status of early voting laws in the states.