Claudia Swisher uses a table outside a coffee shop as make-shift office to notarize mail-in ballots for voters.

Claudia Swisher loves casting her ballot in person on Election Day, but this year COVID-19 health concerns are keeping her away from the polls.

In her lifetime, the 75-year-old Norman, Oklahoma resident has voted only four times by mail. She cast three of those ballots this year.  Swisher also paid $100 to become a notary public to make it easier for her neighbors to comply with the absentee ballot notarization law in the state.

“I want to take away as many barriers as possible to vote because people who want to vote should have as many options as possible,” Swisher said.

All but a handful of states now allow widespread access to mail-in — or absentee — balloting, but voters nationwide find themselves navigating a complex patchwork of regulations that vary from state to state — everything from voter ID requirements to strict ballot deadlines.

And prospective voters face conflicting messages about whether their ballots will be counted amid concerns over U.S. Postal Service delivery delays, barriers to access in poorer communities and the potential for fraud, despite no significant evidence that is, has been or will be a problem.

Still, experts say mail-in ballots will play a pivotal role in the Nov. 3 election and warn the race may not be settled until days later or longer, as record-setting numbers of people vote by mail. In Michigan, by Tuesday afternoon — 24 days before the deadline — 2.6 million voters had requested absentee ballots. That's more than half the total number of voters who turned out in the state during the 2016 election.

The last presidential election was decided by margins of less than 2% in six states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Pundits and policymakers differ on which states will swing this year, but some estimate the race could hinge on voters in eight, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.


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