Voters are increasingly choosing absentee and mail ballots because they are a convenient way to vote, and several states conduct their elections entirely by mail ballots. Yet voting by mail presents particular challenges both for the integrity of the voting process and for the voter’s confidence that his or her ballot has been counted.
- The early history of absentee and mail voting in the United States, and how it is has increased in use to a point in our current election process where now about a quarter of all voters cast their ballots by mail.
- Positive and negative features of the mail voting experience.
- The popularity of and how voters view the use of mail voting and other means of voting.
- The unique problems associated with mail voting when compared with the in-person casting and immediate tabulation of votes.
- The different types of voter fraud, counting standards, and irregularities sometimes associated with mail voting and how states have responded to mitigate the unique vulnerabilities associated with mail voting.
- Legislation across the country that may increase the use of voting by mail, attempt to improve the functionality and security of mail voting, or reduce the potential for absentee or mail voter fraud with a more modernized means of confirming identity.
- Recommendations to improve the mail ballot process.
The paper’s recommendations for improving the mail ballot process to protect the integrity of votes cast by mail ballot, to increase voter confidence in mail ballot voting, and to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised are:
Recommendation 1: To confirm the identity of the applicant as the existing registrant, absentee ballot applicants should be required to provide an address, date of birth, signature, and identifying number, including the driver’s license or state identification card number, the last four digits of the social security number, or other identification number provided at registration. Many states are implementing an electronic verification process, similar to online voter registration, which would instantaneously confirm the identifying number of the voter with either the state voter registration database or the driver’s license system in the process of the voter requesting an absentee or mail ballot.
Recommendation 2: To reduce the number of individuals touching or handling voted or sealed absentee ballots, state legislatures should consider a law or regulation to authorize only family members, household members, or other caregivers to collect the absentee or mail ballot of a voter and return to the election office for counting and tabulation.
Recommendation 3: In addition to comparing the signature of the voter with the signature of the registrant and applicant for absentee or mail ballot, local election officials should find new ways to confirm the identity of the voters, such as the identifying number provided by the voter as the registrant, prior to counting the ballot.
Recommendation 4: If there is an error or omission by the voter, a signature that does not match the signature on file for the absentee mail ballot voter, or the identifying number does not match the registrant, the election office should make a good faith effort to promptly contact the voter to correct the error, omission, or signature, provide an identifying number, or show identification confirming identity.
Recommendation 5: The increase in mail ballots that arrive on or near Election Day has resulted in the delay of reporting of results for days and sometimes weeks after Election Day. This delay is often caused by the need to confirm voter identity by signature and research. The deadline to request absentee or mail ballots should be set in advance of Election Day to allow for the mail system to provide voted ballots by Election Night.
Recommendation 6: The processing of mail absentee ballots by election officials should start well in advance of Election Day, although no tentative or unofficial results should be released to the public or political parties. To speed up the counting and release of unofficial results on election night, the envelopes of mail ballots should be evaluated promptly to confirm identifying or required information, and the canvassed ballots should be scanned prior to Election Night and the first reporting of results. In addition, as the number of mail ballots delivered close to Election Day increases, an election office must be prepared to increase personnel and resources to promptly process and tabulate mail ballots and release results in a timely manner. This process should be transparent while protecting the secrecy of the mail ballots and open to observers representing the political parties or candidates in the election.
Recommendation 7: To improve voter confidence in voting by mail, state and local election officials should provide online access to mail ballot processing information that will allow a voter to closely track the status of their ballot in all stages of the process – ballot request, ballot transmittal, ballot return, and ballot counting process. Voters want to know if their ballot was received and counted, and if not, how the voter may attempt to remedy the problem. To receive what information is available from the U.S. Postal Service is a bit more complicated, but to provide a best estimate of where the mail ballot may be in the postal system, there are ballot tracking tools that localities can use to partner with the USPS to provide additional detailed information to voters, similar to tracking a package in the mail system.
The entire paper is available to view and download here.
Coming soon: Summaries of each state’s law on absentee and mail ballots.