What is the difference between absentee voting and universal vote-by-mail?

Absentee voting is initiated by a request for the ballot. In North Carolina, a voter is not automatically sent a ballot in the mail, it must be requested. Thus, in NC we have absentee voting. Alternatively, vote by mail is a term typically used to describe a system in which all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail.

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1. How do I know what contests and candidates are on my ballot?
2. Where do I find qualifications and platforms of the candidates?
3. Can I vote in the municipal election?
4. If I am registered unaffiliated, can I vote in a primary?
5. What is the difference between absentee voting and universal vote-by-mail?
6. What is provisional voting?