There are many misconceptions surrounding vote-by-mail. Every state already has some mail-in voting for military, overseas and absent voters, sometimes called absentee or early voting depending on your state. Voting by mail shouldn’t have to be a confusing process, and we hope you can find answers to your questions on this page.
The COVID pandemic provides a challenge for states with lower rates of mail-in voting, facing a sudden increase in demand for absentee or vote by mail means adding staff, equipment and systems to ensure voters get the correct ballot on time, and know how and when to return it by. It takes time and money to make sure more voters can easily and securely vote by mail, but it’s well worth it to protect the right to vote and keep voters and election workers healthy.
The National Vote at Home Institute website is a great resource on best practices for expanding absentee voting or vote by mail in your state. If you have other questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vote-by-mail Informational Resources:
- Vote At Home informational video
- Historical Impact on voter turnout: “Three of the four Vote at Home States – Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – ranked in the top ten in turnout [2018 midterm]. These states send all registered voters their ballot two or more weeks in advance and provide secure and convenient options to return it.” Read the full report.
- View your state’s latest voting options including vote by mail for your upcoming election at WeCanVote.us
- Voter fraud does not favor one party over the other. Stanford Study here.
- The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has specific information on mail-in voting statutes by state.
What is the difference between vote-by-mail, early voting and absentee voting?
All 3 voting methods if well executed, allow voters to mark a paper ballot by hand, or with an assistive device for voters with disabilities*, and mail it into their local elections office.
- States that have majority vote-by-mail elections automatically send ballots to registered voters in the weeks preceding each election.
- Early voting enables people to vote in-person on specified dates before Election Day. Some states use the term early voting to refer to voting by absentee ballot. State laws governing early voting.
- Absentee voting requires voters to submit an application in order to be sent a paper ballot. Some states have a no-excuse policy while others require voters to give a valid excuse. Six states require one or two witnesses, or a notary to sign each absentee ballot in order for it to be counted (at the time of this writing). To check the absentee ballot rules in your state click here.
*There are some voters with disabilities that cannot independently mail-in their ballot, or lack the assistive technology to mark a ballot at home and must vote in-person. In addition, some voters may not get their ballot on time, may spill something on their ballot or lose it, may be experiencing homelessness or may require English-language assistance. Safe in-person voting must always be an option for these voters. Best practices are important so they can do so safely and securely.
What are the benefits of voting by mail?
Voting by mail, if properly organized, is easy, secure, and convenient. You can vote in the privacy of your home and take your time to mark your ballot and mail it back. Your ballot gets delivered to you so you never have to worry about missing an election if you are unable to go to the polls. What does voting by mail look like in states where it’s the primary mode of voting?
Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon and Washington already send each eligible voter a mail-in ballot. In other states like Nebraska and Arizona, election officials offer some voters the option to receive their ballot every election by mail.
How does the elections department process a vote-by-mail ballot securely?
Each state, and in some places each county, practices their own security protocol to ensure vote-by-mail ballot integrity.
For example, in Washington state election officials follow the below security steps upon receiving vote-by-mail ballots:
- Signatures on the outer return envelope are checked against the signature on file in voter registration records to make sure they match.
- Voters are credited for voting in that election. This ensures that only one ballot from each voter is counted.
- The outer return envelope, which identifies the voter, is then separated from the inner security envelope, which contains the voted ballot. Ballots cannot be traced back to voters, ensuring the secrecy of your vote.
- All ballots are inspected to make sure the tabulating machine will be able to read all votes. Tabulation equipment is tested before every election to make sure it is working accurately.
When and where would you apply for a vote-by-mail or absentee ballot?
Voting laws vary by state and sometimes county.
In Utah, Washington, Hawaii, Oregon and Colorado vote-by-mail ballots and pre-paid return envelopes are automatically mailed to all registered voters in the weeks preceding their primary election.
Some states have implemented temporary measures in light of the pandemic. For the 2020 general election, California is sending all registered voters a mail-in ballot. New Jersey is sending some, but not all, registered voters ballots in the mail. Some states are sending applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters, though voters may not automatically receive ballots. For more information on how your state has responded to the COVID pandemic, go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
Many other states that have absentee or early voting options provide the option to apply to vote absentee online or to download and print an application online. To find out if and how you can vote absentee or by mail in your state, find your state elections website here. For more information about application deadlines by state click here. Another useful websites for voter information include vote.org and WeCanVote.us
How do you know if your ballot has been received?
Some states or counties allow voters to track the status of their ballot using a tracking code. This is a best practice for vote-by-mail. You can also call your county or local elections office for more detailed information about vote-by-mail ballot processing in your area.
After I receive my ballot in the mail can I still vote at the polls?
Always check the rules in your own state and county. In California, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Colorado and Hawaii, even if you receive your vote-by-mail ballot, as long as you don’t submit it, you can change your mind and vote at your polling location or a ballot drop-off location on Election Day. One can either hand-in your marked ballot to a poll worker or exchange your empty ballot for an in-person polling place ballot. Some polling locations require identification to vote in-person. Contact your local elections office to learn the vote-by-mail guidelines specific to your area.
Why shouldn’t we just vote online?
Online voting leaves elections susceptible to hacking from individuals, organizations, and foreign governments. The security and transparency requirements of voting cannot be fulfilled through the same mechanisms we use for e-commerce. Here is why paper ballots are safer than voting online:
Benefits of vote at home:
- Ability to vote from the privacy of your home, gives voters a chance to vote when they have time available to do so.
- Ability to research candidates and their platforms while voting.
- Accessible to more registered voters–ballots are conveniently sent to you, no need to wait in line at the polls
- Marking a paper ballot by hand limits opportunities for hacking or computer error, in states that do not offer every voter the option to mark a paper ballot by hand, mail-in voting may be more secure.
- Provides an opportunity to check that the outcome of an election is correct (and not compromised by a hack or computer error) using a risk limiting audit. In a risk limiting audit, election officials check a random sample of paper ballots against the machine count to detect and correct any problem with the machine count until there’s a high level of confidence the election outcome was correct, or a recount is initiated if problems are found.
Voting at home is safe, secure, and offers a level of convenience not available at the polls. Learn more about how to register for absentee/vote-by-mail here.
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