VAH Mythbusting

Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable

There are many myths about the vote-by-mail process (also known as “voting at home”), and information voters sometimes hear from decision-makers who are unfamiliar with the process may not always be true. The truth is voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable.

All 50 states already permit people to vote by mailed-out ballot to some degree. In many states, this system is known as “absentee voting.” States differ by how broadly they offer mail ballots to voters and how they administer the system. Hundreds of millions of mail ballots have been cast over the last 20 years, and data shows that in 2020, due to the pandemic, voting by mailed-out ballot was the largest single way voters cast their ballots.

Research shows voting by mail produces consistent outcomes without partisan bias. Many states that could be considered politically conservative have a large number of voters who prefer to vote by mail, as do states which are considered politically liberal or as having mixed political constituencies. Some examples of conservative states offering high mail ballot access are:

  • Utah moved to an all vote-by-mail system in 2019.  It had previously shown success at the county level before being rolled out statewide.
  • In both Montana and Arizona, over 70% of voters are automatically mailed their ballots as “permanent absentee” voters.
  • In North Dakota, >40 counties vote entirely by mailed-out ballot as do 11 counties in Nebraska.  In both cases, their turnout numbers are far above polling-place centric counties in their respective states.  Alaska recently conducted their first statewide election using this method, which Anchorage had used successfully for a prior municipal election.
  • Many states with predominantly vote-by-mail systems have elected secretaries of state and other officials who are Republicans — and big fans of this process.

The move to better access to mailed-out ballots is strong nationwide.  About 1/3 of all US registered voters now live in a state or jurisdiction that either mails ballots to all registered voters automatically for every election or allows voters to opt into that model via a permanent absentee option.

All ballots feature the Official Election Mail logo to help postal workers and carriers identify ballots, prioritize ballots for delivery, and ensure all ballots are processed. Any voter who doesn’t receive a ballot or misplaces it, can contact their local election office for a replacement or vote in person.

In addition to returning ballots by mail, vote-by-mail systems offer multiple methods for returning ballots. These options include easily accessible, secure ballot drop boxes, and returning mail ballots to staffed vote centers or polling places.

In jurisdictions using mailed-out ballots extensively, often over 50% of ballots are returned “in-person” to either drop boxes or vote centers.

Many states offer ballot tracking tools (similar to commercial package tracking) so voters can track their ballot’s status in real time. These tools inform voters when their ballot is mailed to them, has been delivered to them, is received by the elections office, their signature has been verified where applicable, and then counted. If there is a discrepancy, missing signature, or other issue, the system can even notify the voter to help them remedy (“cure”) the problem.

Voting systems are designed to protect voters and contain safeguards to keep ballots secure. 

Mail ballots and accompanying envelopes are designed with numerous security features such as personalized barcodes to ensure that only one ballot is cast per person. Ballots are printed on special, identifiable paper, and every ballot is inspected to ensure it is valid for the election being conducted.

Signature verification: Election officials validate voters’ identities to ensure that only eligible voters cast a ballot. The recommended best practice is to use signature verification, via a robust procedure that includes bipartisan teams of trained signature judges. This drastically reduces opportunities for unconscious bias or human error by volunteer poll workers.

Under this process, every return ballot envelope is signed by the voter, and each signature is validated by being compared to other official signatures already on file (such as the voter’s registration document, prior election ballot envelopes, motor vehicle transactions, etc.). Signature verifiers can be trained by handwriting experts, including many from law enforcement, in a manner similar to those used in financial institutions. Another best practice is to include a signature “curing” process, where if the signature doesn’t match and a secondary bipartisan review team cannot determine a match, the voter is contacted immediately and given multiple paths to resolve the discrepancy including potentially providing a photo ID. This “cure” period extends after Election Day to allow all votes that arrived on time to be counted.

Voter fraud anywhere is exceedingly rare, and per capita rates of fraud are often lower in states that rely heavily on mail ballots. 

Attempts at voter fraud that receive public attention are examples of the system working well. These extremely rare cases are identified and corrected, and the offenders are prosecuted. Election security is paramount, and security measures are a critical part of mail ballot systems.

Stealing, attempting to steal, or even hiding another person’s mail is a federal felony offense. It may also be a state crime. For example, in Oregon, intentionally tampering with or diverting a mailed-out ballot is a felony, punishable by a $25,000 fine and up to 5 years in jail for EVERY BALLOT. Stiff penalties deter election fraud because they make the risk of election interference far greater than the potential reward.

Attempting to influence another person’s vote is a crime. While it is possible under almost any election system for family members or other individuals to unduly pressure a voter to support a certain candidate or issue, evidence suggests this is no more common under vote-by-mail systems. States deter such behavior with laws that punish bad actors if they attempt to take advantage of voters.

Noncitizens:Noncitizens are not eligible to register to vote and must attest to their eligibility at the time of registration.

Deceased voters: States and local jurisdictions with effective vote-by-mail systems have automated processes that regularly match death records to the voter registration lists to prevent ballots going to a deceased voter. Signature verification provides a second level of security.

Voters who have moved: Ballots are non-forwardable, and anyone who tampers with a ballot that is not their own is committing a crime. The signature verification process is designed to detect such cases. 

States can use the USPS National Change of Address (NCOA) database and join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which shares address change data nationwide. States can also implement policies like automatic voter registration, which helps capture address changes from other government touchpoints like the DMV or social service agencies.

In the highly unlikely chance that a ballot is sent to the wrong person, other failsafe measures prevent that ballot from being accepted or counted.

Election officials have detailed procedures to ensure only one ballot per voter is accepted and counted. Election officials will accept only one ballot from any voter — the first valid ballot they receive. Any other ballots returned by or on behalf of the voter are rejected, and if criminal intent is suspected, the voter or other perpetrators would be prosecuted.

Voting is a right for U.S. citizens and voting by mail is just another option for people to exercise that right. All voters are qualified to vote, and there is no need to pass a test, provide an excuse, or persevere through an overly difficult voting process.

Voting by mail is good for democracy: it is voter-centric and makes voting more accessible for a larger portion of the electorate. Many studies show jurisdictions that vote predominantly by mail have higher turnout than polling-place-centric jurisdictions. Studies show people who vote at home vote farther “down the ballot,”as they have more time to research and become informed about the issues and candidates.