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Mail-in ballots and absentee ballots have been the subject of misinformation this year - we've gathered the facts.

Is Mail-In Voting Secure?

Mail-in voting has been a part of American democracy since the Civil War, when soldiers were given the opportunity to mail ballots home from the battlefield. Today, all fifty states allow at least some form of mail-in voting.

Policies vary widely from state to state; some states operate a universal mail-in voting program, others send applications to all registered voters, and some require an excuse or reason to vote absentee.

Security measures are also different in every state. Some require a witness signature to verify the ballot was filled out by the proper person, some require voter pin numbers, and others use signature matching for verification.

Until this election season, voting by mail was embraced by both parties and effectively overseen on a non-partisan basis by election experts on the ground. Until this election season, Americans had full faith in the process. 

Mail-In Voting FAQs

How are mail-in ballots counted?

Upon receipt of the mailed ballot, local election authorities check the name of the voter to make sure the person is registered to vote and is casting a ballot from the address registered with the election authority. After certifying those facts, they remove the sealed ballot from the outside envelope containing the voter signature so that the voter’s preferences remain confidential. On Election Day, states count the mail ballots and add the results to the votes of those individuals who cast their ballots in person.

What safeguards are in place to prevent voter fraud?

According to Lori Augino, Washington state Director of Elections: "Every single signature on every single ballot that is returned to a county election official is checked against the signature on file in a voter’s registration record. This enables officials to do to two things: (1) ensure the ballot was returned by an eligible voter, and (2) if the signature on the ballot envelope does not match the signature on file, it gives the voter a chance to either update their record or alert election officials that the ballot returned may be fraudulent."

How will I know if my vote has been counted?

Currently, 39 states and Washington, D.C., have the capability to track mail-in ballots, according to an interactive map published and updated by NBC News. These states are: Alabama; Alaska; Arkansas; Arizona; California; Colorado; Delaware; Georgia; Florida; Idaho; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia and Wyoming. Adoption of proper tracking protocols is and should be a huge priority for states looking to assuage voters' fear regarding mail-in voting.

Are Ballot Drop Boxes Safe?

Ballot drop boxes are a secure and convenient option for voters to return their mail ballot in most states. A drop box is a secure, locked structure operated by election officials where voters may directly return their ballots by hand from the time they receive them in the mail up to the time polls close on Election Day.

Ballot drop boxes can be staffed or unstaffed. Unstaffed drop boxes are typically available 24 hours a day and permanently anchored in place. Staffed drop boxes are typically available during regular business hours and are monitored by trained workers during those hours. Ideally, they should be monitored via camera during off-hours.

In Colorado, where voting by mail or by drop box has long been the norm, nearly 75% of all voters in the 2016 general election cast their vote via drop box. 

Until this election season, ballot drop boxes were considered an effective solution supported by both parties.

Ballot Drop Boxes FAQs

How are ballot drop boxes kept secure?

Ballot drop boxes must be secured and locked at all times. Only an election official or a designated ballot drop box collection team should have access to the keys and/or combination of the lock. In addition to locks, all drop boxes should be sealed with one or more tamper evident seals.
Ideally, unstaffed 24-hour drop boxes should be located in areas with good lighting and be monitored by video surveillance cameras. When this is not feasible, positioning the box close to a nearby camera is a good option. Also consider placing it in a high traffic area and inviting local law enforcement to make regular observations.
Try to place indoor drop boxes in locations where they can be monitored by a live person. When ballot boxes are unstaffed and not being monitored, the box should be securely fastened to a stationary surface or immovable object in a way that prevents moving or tampering.

Who can collect and drop off a mailed ballot on behalf of a voter?

Voters who are unable to return a ballot in person or get it to a postal facility in time for it to be counted may, depending on state law, may be able to entrust the voted ballot to someone else to help them deliver it—an agent or designee. Note that, as of March 30, 2020:
● Twenty-seven states permit an absentee ballot to be returned by a designated agent, which can be a family member, attorney, or care provider.
● Nine states permit an absentee ballot to be returned by the voter’s family member. ● One state specifies that an absentee ballot can only be returned in person or by mail. ● Thirteen states do not expressly address this issue.

Some states that allow a designated agent to return a voted ballot on behalf of the voter restrict the number of ballots that can be deposited by that person at one time in a drop box.

How many ballot drop boxes are needed in each state?

At a minimum, you should have a drop box at your main county or city office building. Voters generally know the locations of these buildings and are already accustomed to voting or doing business there. Some other best practices include:
❏ Have one drop box for every 15,000–20,000 registered voters. ❏ Consider adding more drop boxes to areas where there may be communities with historically low vote by mail usage.
❏ Use demographic data and analysis to determine whether there should be a different formula for rural and urban locations (i.e., 1 for every 15,000 residents may be every mile in an urban are, but every 50 miles in a rural area). To get a better idea of how many voters use ballot drop boxes when voting by mail is the primary method of voting, look at the Ballot Drop Box Usage chart put together by the Washington Secretary of State. It shows ballot drop box use as a percentage of total ballots returned for Washington state, where voting by mail has been the primary method of voting for over a decade.


The above information comes directly from the following trusted election sources: 

US Election Assistance Commission (PDF)

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub's "Facts About Voting By Mail" (PDF)

NPR, "Why Is Voting By Mail (Suddenly) Controversial?"

The Bipartisan Policy Center, "Is Voting by Mail Safe and Reliable?"

Lawfare Blog, "The Rise of Ballot Drop Boxes Due to the Coronavirus"