With less than 49 days to go until polls close for the Nov. 3 presidential election, the United States Postal Service is urging Americans who want to vote by mail to “plan ahead.”

The USPS sent flyers to its postal customers this week listing a number of things for them to do if they wish to vote absentee by mail in the fall. The message to voters is to get their ballots in the mail as soon as possible.

Items on that checklist are:

• Start today. Give yourself and your election officials ample time to complete the mail-in ballot process.

• Rules and dates vary by state, so contact your local election officials for information. Tennesseans should visit the state’s election website at govotetn.com.

• Request your mail-in ballot (which is often called an “absentee ballot” at least 15 days before Election Day. Tennesseans have until Oct. 27 to request a mail-in ballot from their county’s Election Commission.

• Once you’ve received an absentee ballot, follow the instructions. Add return postage to the envelope as needed. In Tennessee, absentee ballots must be returned by mail through the USPS, FedEx or United Parcel Service.

• The Postal Service recommends voters mail their absentee ballots at least seven days before Election Day. In Tennessee, those ballots must be received by county election officials by close of business on Election Day. Election officials can’t accept an absentee ballot directly from a voter or from a drop box.

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is urging Tennesseans to make plans now for how they will vote in November. That begins with the state’s Oct. 5 deadline to register to vote.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election will be held Oct. 14-29 in Tennessee.

Hargett told Republicans in Johnson City on Monday that 98% of the state’s eligible voters typically mark their ballots in person during the early voting period or on Election Day.

This year, however, Hargett believes the absentee mail count could go from 2% of the state’s total vote to as much as 25% of the Nov. 3 tally.

Tennessee voters must meet a legal reason listed under state law to be eligible to vote an absentee by-mail ballot. Some of the most common legal reasons allowed for absentee balloting are for voters who are 60 or older and voters who will be out of their counties during the election.

Voters who have a special vulnerability to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) because of an underlying illness, physical disability or other health condition, and who cannot appear at the polling place on Election Day as a result of this condition, may vote by absentee ballot under the “illness or physical disability” reason.

Likewise, eligible voters who are caretakers to individuals with a special vulnerability are eligible to vote by absentee ballot under the “caretaker” provision.