I was looking up absentee voting laws in different states after hearing something on the news and saw this: https://ballotpedia.org/Absentee_voting

It divides the US states into three groups based on the circumstances under which one can cast an absentee ballot:

  1. Excuse required.
  2. No excuse required.
  3. All-mail voting.

In a formal context like the law, I don't think "excuse" has much of a negative connotation if any, but most of the time people seem to use it to mean "weak excuse" or "flimsy excuse".

Is there a word with a neutral connotation, similar to "explanation", but with the implication that someone has been granted a privilege or relieved of an obligation?

  • 4
    How about reason?
    – Jim
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 4:42
  • Just because excuse is sometimes or often used with "flimsy," it doesn't mean that it goes hand in hand. I don't see anything negative about "excuse" in that context. Also, from the context, it's clear that if you present a reasonable excuse, you will be granted an absentee ballot. Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 7:39

4 Answers 4


A word implying excuse (but not a pretext) is grounds.


ground NOUN

3 (grounds) Factors forming a basis for action or the justification for a belief.

‘The evidential burden for restraining property is even lower - all the government needs is ‘reasonable grounds for belief’.’


these words seem to develop a pejorative meaning like 'handicap' or 'disabled' etc take on

I think the following one is currently rehabilitated




noun UK ​ /ˌdʒʌs.tɪ.fɪˈkeɪ.ʃən/ US ​ /ˌdʒʌs.tə.fəˈkeɪ.ʃən/

a good reason or explanation for something:


I think reason is neutral to positive word that can replace excuse. The different between them semantically seems to be that excuse as someone says early a flimsy reason. Thus reason would be a good replacement in the case you provide. I think the accepted answer of grounds might be confusing to some of the general population, at least in the US.

ˈrēzən/Submit noun
a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.


In my opinion, explanation DOES mean what you're saying. And perhaps the negative connotations and the implication that some exception is being made are tied together.

There's "justification" which definitely does technically work, but I think "excuse" sounds a bit less scary. If you're told you need justification, you may be less likely to attempt to cast an absentee ballot than if you're told you need an excuse.

  • 2
    All valid excuses are explanations; not all explanations are excuses… Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 22:44

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