A Simple, Factual Summary: Vote By Mail

Key takeaways

  • Vote by mail is bi-partisan.
  • Vote by mail is safe.
  • Vote by mail is fraud-resistant.

1. Vote by mail is bi-partisan.

The majority of ballots in over a dozen states are submitted by mail. Including in deep red states like Utah, Arizona, Montana, North Carolina, Arkansas and more. It’s also true of California, Oregon, Hawaii and New Mexico.

Studies show that neither party gets a clear benefit when ballots are mailed instead of in person.

2. Vote by mail is fraud-resistant.

Every ballot has a bar code. This is similar to what you see on concert or airline tickets and FedEx packages. It gets scanned when it is mailed to you, scanned when it is mailed back to the elections office, when it is received by the elections office, and when it is validated and counted.

Ballots are hand marked and counted — there are no tricky voting machines to malfunction or hack.

Ballot signatures are checked against signatures on file and ID numbers. They all have to match. If your ballot can’t be immediately validated, you’ll be asked to provide more information, potentially in person.

We can’t say it’s fraud-proof, but it would be hard to do it.

3. Vote by mail is safe and convenient.

It’s been a very strange year. Voting by Mail means you can cast your vote and be sure it is counted no matter where you live, no matter what is going on. Weather, pandemics, civil unrest — Vote by Mail is unaffected by any of it.

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Background and information:

1. Every state allows some people to vote by mail.

All 50 state have some voting by mail. Some call it early voting or absentee voting or both. Many states have restrictions on who can use early voting. Texas says it’s fine for elderly people, but not others. Massachusetts just changed their rules to allow for no-excuse voting, as did Virginia.

Getting those ballots isn’t always easy, though. First, you need to know it is an option. Then you need to be able to access the website, and get through a potentially confusing set of steps to apply for a ballot.

2. Some states make it very easy.

California, Colorado and Oregon mail ballots directly to registered voters.

The easiest thing for registered voters is when the state mails their ballots to them directly.

Turns out it costs less to run the election as well. And there is very, very little evidence of fraud. in 20 years, approximately 143 ballots were found to be fraudulent out of hundreds of millions.

Does that mean it may send a ballot to someone who has moved or died? Sure. But if a law-breaker got ahold of that ballot and tried to send it in, it would have to be signature matched and ID validated to be counted. That’s hard to pull off — especially in bulk.

Some states mail ballot applications to registered voters. This adds a few extra steps, but at least everyone knows that they are able to vote by mail if they wish.

3. Some states make it harder to vote by mail.

Some states really want you to vote at the polls for various reasons. There are a lot of people who think watching the results come in in real time is exciting. Vote by mail means results come in over a period of days or weeks, not hours, so it can be tedious if you want to view the results immediately.

In these states you must have a valid excuse or meet certain conditions to be eligible to vote by mail. This generally means that the application process is more complicated as well, and fewer people know about it.

4. Why are there so many stories about fraud and voting by mail?

It is not entirely clear why people are making up these stories. A lot of people make up a lot of stories these days just to scare people. Some people think the president is trying to scare people and make them doubt if the election will be fair. Some people are just worried — it’s a complicated time.

There is no evidence that voter fraud is a real problem in US elections. Threats from malfunctioning voting machines, hacking attempts and political campaign and official misconduct are real, documented and troubling.

5. Are there voting issues we should be worried about?

  • Voter suppression is a real thing. States decide how they manage their elections. Some states have closed or changed polling places, purged voter registration databases and used other tactics to make it harder for some people to vote. Georgia, Florida and Texas all have active lawsuits where election commissioners have made decisions that seem to unfairly benefit their party.
  • Gerrymandering — both parties in have been found guilty by the courts of unfairly defining voting districts to make it hard to elect representatives from the opposition party.
  • Foreign hackers — the attempts by foreign adversaries to hack voter registration databases is very well documented. It is likely that these efforts are still underway and that they are getting better at it.
  • Polling place changes — polling place changes can make it hard for people to know where and when they can vote.

6. Can you vote by mail?

It depends on where you live. Visit one of these websites. Type in your address, and they will link you to the right website for you to apply for a mail-in ballot in your jurisdiction: www.vote.org or www.fvap.gov

These sites will help you check your registration status, and help you get a mail in ballot.

If you mail in your ballot.

  • You can track its status.
  • It can’t be electronically manipulated.
  • You can do it from home.
  • You can be sure of a safe, fair and free election.

References

If you’d like to fact check this piece or learn more about these topics, these are the references we used to put this explainer together.

National Conference of State Legislatures: Voting Outside the Polling Place: Absentee, All-Mail and other Voting at Home Options

National Vote at Home Institute: Voter Center

US Election Assistance Committee: Early, Absentee and Mail Voting

News21: Election Fraud in America

Brennan Center of Justice: Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth

FiveThirtyEight: There Is No Evidence That Voting By Mail Gives One Party An Advantage