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U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-NC, speaks at an event in North Carolina. (WRAL file photo) U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-NC, speaks at an event in North Carolina. (WRAL file photo)

U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-NC, speaks at an event in North Carolina. (WRAL file photo)

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht February 28, 2024

Which state has the longest voting period in the nation?

If Your Time is short

  • In general elections, North Carolina distributes ballots before any other state.
  • For primary elections, though, the state's voting period doesn't stand out. 
  • Election experts added: Offering a variety of voting options doesn't necessarily mean a state makes voting easy.

A Democratic congresswoman from North Carolina says the battleground state offers voters more time to participate in elections than in any other state. 

U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross on Jan. 25 announced a bill to make each state’s congressional redistricting processes more transparent — an effort that follows a contentious redistricting effort in her home state. North Carolina legislators on both sides of the aisle have a history of drawing new election maps behind closed doors, raising suspicion among opponents that they’re influenced by outside political groups. 

Ross concluded a recent press conference by addressing the media, "Please remind your readers and your viewers that you can start voting in the primary already."

She added, "North Carolina has the longest voting period in the country, because we’re a military state, and we have the most ways of voting."

North Carolina is home to several military bases. To comply with federal voting laws accommodating members of the military, the state mails absentee ballots to eligible U.S. citizens overseas at least 45 days before an election. 

We wondered about the timeframe for civilian voters, though. Does North Carolina offer the longest voting period in the nation? 

The answer: for one major type of election — but not for the other.

General versus primary absentee voting periods

To judge voting periods, Ross measured the length of time between two dates: when absentee ballots are mailed to voters, and the final day a ballot can be postmarked. PolitiFact North Carolina also considered the final day an absentee ballot could be accepted. 

To check Ross’ claim, we relied on information from the National Conference of State Legislators, a bipartisan organization advocating for the interests of state governments. The NCSL tracks election laws in each state. We also contacted election officials in states that appeared to have some of the longest voting periods.

General elections: When it comes to general elections — typically held in November on even-numbered years — North Carolina stands out.

North Carolina is the only state that mails absentee ballots to voters 60 days before the general election. North Carolina elections officials will begin mailing out absentee ballots on Sept. 6 for the Nov. 5 general election.

Delaware state law allows for absentee ballots to be sent up to 60 days in advance of a general election, as the NCSL noted. But that’s not what happens in practice, according to the office of Delaware’s state election commissioner. Absentee ballots are typically mailed 30 to 45 days before an election, a spokeswoman for the Delaware office told PolitiFact.

North Carolina also stands apart from Delaware and other states because it’s a "no-excuse" absentee state — meaning any voter can request an absentee ballot without providing a reason, such as being sick or out of town.

In other words, for general elections, North Carolina has the longest voting period in the nation that’s open to every registered voter.

Primary elections: North Carolina’s absentee voters have comparatively less time to fill out their ballot during primary elections. 

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North Carolina state statutes instruct elections boards to mail absentee ballots 50 days before a primary and allow the state elections board to shorten the window to 45 days. That’s what the board voted to do this year to account for the federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Jan. 15. North Carolina started mailing out absentee ballots Jan. 19 for the March 5 primary. 

Compared with other states, North Carolina’s 45-day primary voting period is long — but it’s not the longest. Here are some states that caught our attention:

  • Alabama allows absentee voting to start 55 days ahead of its elections. Eligible absentee voters started receiving ballots on Jan. 10 for the March 5 primary, Jeff Elrod, the state’s director of elections, told PolitiFact.

  • Wisconsin separates its presidential primary from others. Although absentee ballots will be mailed to civilians less than a month before the April 2 presidential preference election, they’ll go out 47 days ahead of the Aug. 13 primary for congressional and legislative races. 

  • South Dakota’s absentee voting window is 46 days long. The state will begin mailing ballots on April 19 for its June 4 primaries, said Rachel Soulek, director of elections for the Secretary of State’s office.

  • Elections officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania told us that it’s possible for absentee ballots to be mailed 50 days before a primary, but that delivery dates vary by county and ballots don’t always go out that early.

  • Like North Carolina, Minnesota and Virginia began mailing out ballots on Jan. 19 ahead of their March 5 primaries. However, they allow ballots to arrive later than North Carolina does. In North Carolina, absentee and mail-in ballots must arrive before polls close at 7:30 on Election Day. In Minnesota, they’re due by 8 p.m. on Election Day. In Virginia, they must be postmarked by Election Day but can be received as late as noon on the Friday following the election.

Ways to vote

Ross also said North Carolina offers the "most ways of voting." North Carolina does offer a wide range of voting methods: absentee-by-mail, absentee through online portal (for military, eligible overseas and visually impaired voters), in-person early voting, in-person Election Day, curbside and provisional.

At least a half dozen states — including Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina and South Dakota — offer a similar menu of voting options as North Carolina, according to researchers for the U.S. Vote Foundation, a voter education nonprofit.

But offering the most voting options doesn’t necessarily mean that a state offers the easiest ballot access, said Andrew Garber, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program.

"It’s difficult to compare the number of ‘ways’ different states have to vote because the voting rules across states differ in many nuanced ways," Garber said in an email. "A state that has a lot of ‘ways’ to vote may still not be that accessible for its voters."

For example, a state may have in-person early voting but limit voting hours or offer only a few voting sites. North Carolina’s same-day voting registration rules offer another example, Garber said. The state offers same-day registration — which lets eligible residents register to vote at an early voting site and vote the same day. But new laws enacted last year instruct election officials to scrap a voter’s ballot if the county’s address verification form is returned to the elections board as undeliverable.

The law, which is being challenged in court, disqualifies ballots from registered voters "even after they (present) photo ID and proof of residence" at the polls, Garber said.

Our ruling

Ross said "North Carolina has the longest voting period in the country … and we have the most ways of voting."

For general elections, that’s accurate. North Carolina is the only state that requires absentee ballots to be sent 60 days before Election Day. But this year, the state’s voting window for this year’s primary elections does not stand out.

Ross’ claim about having the "most ways" of voting could also give North Carolinians the impression the state offers the easiest ballot access. That’s not necessarily the case as other states have similar offerings.

Ross’ claim is partially accurate. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Audio of U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., speaking at a press conference Jan. 25, 2024.

Email and phone interview with Josie Feron, spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C.

Email exchanges with Patrick Gannon, spokesperson for the North Carolina State Board of Elections

North Carolina state law on absentee voting

North Carolina State Board of Election resolution, "On Absentee Ballot Distribution For The March 2024 Primary," Nov. 28, 2023

Email exchange with Mick Bullock and Uyen Vong, spokespeople for the National Conference of State Legislatures

National Conference of State Legislatures webpages, "When States Mail Out Absentee/Mail Ballots," and "States with No-Excuse Absentee Voting," and "Receipt and Postmark Deadlines for Absentee/Mail Ballots"

WRAL, "NC's most popular way of voting could grind to halt if new elections bill passes, critics say," June 15, 2023; "Cooper sues over new GOP-backed election rules he says will 'undermine fair elections' in NC," Oct. 17, 2023; "NC will have lots of fresh faces -- and lost seniority -- in Congress after 2024 elections," Dec. 15, 2023

Telephone interview with a spokesperson for the Delaware state election commissioner

Email exchange with Jeff Elrod, Alabama’s director of elections

Email exchange with Rachel Soulek, director of the elections division for South Dakota’s secretary of state

Email exchange with Andrea Gaines, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Elections

Email exchange with Cassondra Knudson, spokesperson for the Minnesota Secretary of State

Email exchange with Andrew Garber, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program

Email exchange with Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president and CEO of the nonprofit U.S. Vote Foundation

Phone interview with Riley Willman, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission 

Phone interview with Amy Gulli, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Department

Phone interview with Jonathan Brater, director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections

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