Vote By Mail, Explained

As states across the country work to expand vote by mail so that everyone can vote safely, we are here to answer your questions. We’ve summarized much of what you should know below, but if you need the TL;DR, here it is: How safe is it? Very. Is fraud rampant? No. Does vote by mail help with voter turn out? It can.

Keep reading to learn more about vote by mail, then visit our new Voter Resources Hub to register to vote and request your ballot.

  • What is Vote by mail?

    Voting by mail allows you to vote safely from home instead of going to a polling place. Mail in ballots, also known as absentee ballots, are sent to you by your local election official’s office. When you receive your mail-in ballot it will also include directions and an envelope to return your ballot. It is important to follow the directions to correctly fill out your ballot and sign it. 

    Depending on your state’s rules, you may need to request your ballot or a ballot may be automatically sent to you. Because of COVID-19, many states are expanding their vote by mail options.

  • How does voting by mail work?

    Voting by mail is a convenient and accessible way to cast your vote from your home. To vote by mail, follow these simple steps:

    1. First, make sure you’re registered to vote. You can register at whenweallvote.org/register.

    2. Once you are registered, you can then request your absentee ballot for your state by filling out an application form. Find out how to get started on your Secretary of State’s website. 

    It’s important to note that, depending on your state, you may have to provide an excuse for why you are applying to vote by mail. Thirty-four states including Washington, D.C. allow “no excuse” absentee voting, which means anyone eligible qualifies to apply for an absentee or mail-in ballot. Some states have been making exceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic — check your Secretary of State’s website to find out more.

    If you live in a state that has universal vote-by-mail and are a registered voter, you may not need to request a ballot and will be automatically sent one. Check your Secretary of State’s website to find out.

    3. Once your application is approved, your ballot will be mailed to you where you can fill it out from home. You can take your time with your ballot and research candidates, ballot questions, and issues before making your decision. Once your ballot is completed, you must send it back before your state’s deadline. 

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states are expanding vote by mail so that everyone can vote safely. Make sure you are aware of your state’s rules and regulations in response to COVID-19 by checking your Secretary of State’s website and following us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for big updates.

  • Is it safe to vote by mail?

    Yes. Voting by mail is a secure system that provides you with more time and flexibility to cast your ballot in case you cannot make it to the polls on Election Day. There is no evidence of an increase in voter fraud with vote by mail. For example, in Oregon, over 100 million mail-in ballots have been cast since 2000. Of those, 0.000012% resulted in fraud (that’s about a dozen total cases in 20 years). 

    In fact, the military has been using vote-by-mail since the Civil War. The current President and Vice President recently casted their votes by mail. 

    Many states allow you to track your ballot so you can make sure it arrives on time. 

    Source: Brennan Center for Justice

  • Is vote by mail more susceptible to voter fraud?

    There are many rumors that vote by mail will lead to voter fraud – that is not true. In fact, it is more likely for an American to get struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “States have multiple tools to address valid security concerns and protect election integrity when it comes to mail ballots. And recent technologies and strategies have significantly enhanced the security of mail balloting.” 

    Source: Brennan Center for Justice

  • If I’m currently social distancing somewhere that I don’t usually live/am not registered, do I have to re-register?

    You have to update your voter registration when you move to a new permanent residence or change your name. If you are temporarily in a different location because you’re a student away at college or are social distancing somewhere other than your permanent residence, request to vote absentee in the state where you are registered.

  • What are the advantages to voting by mail?

    The advantages to voting by mail include voting from the comfort of your own home, taking your time to fill out your ballot, and having the opportunity to practice social distancing during COVID-19. Voting by mail ensures the safety of voters, and also poll workers. During a global pandemic, such as COVID-19, many voters feel unsafe going to crowded polling places. Vote by mail allows us to make our voices heard without putting ourselves or our families at unnecessary risk.

  • Do I have to pay for postage?

    Some states will provide envelopes with pre-paid postage while others require you to purchase stamps. You can learn more information on your Secretary of State’s website. If you need to purchase stamps, you can pick them up at your local post office or buy them online. Also, many grocery stores and pharmacies also sell them at the cash register.

  • When do I have to send my ballot in before an election?

    Each state is different when it comes to mail-in deadlines. However, a good rule of thumb is to mail your ballot in as soon as possible. You don’t want to worry about postal delays and your ballot not being received on time if you mail it close to the deadline. In some states, you can also drop-off your ballot at secure locations, polling sites, or election official offices.

  • If my ballot doesn’t show up, what do I do?

    If you have not received your absentee ballot after submitting your application, you should contact your local election’s office. They can help you figure out your best options to make sure your vote gets cast.

  • Can I request an absentee ballot online?

    If your state requires an application for a mail-in ballot, you may be able to apply online. Some states allow you to request it online while others require you to fill out an application form by hand and mail, fax, or deliver the form in person to your local election’s office.

  • What if I experience any issues with my ballot?

    The national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition that When We All Vote partners with works year-round to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to vote and have that vote count. Made up of more than 100 local, state and national partners, Election Protection uses a wide range of tools and activities to protect, advance and defend the right to vote.

    Election Protection provides Americans from coast to coast with comprehensive information and assistance at all stages of voting – from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting a vote at the polls, to overcoming obstacles to their participation. Election Protection helps voters make sure their vote is counted through a number of resources, including: