- Voting in the 2020 presidential election is set to kick into high gear this week, with over a dozen states mailing November general election ballots to hundreds of thousands of voters.
- This fall, election officials in 46 states and the District of Columbia will be offering online ballot tracking services, allowing voters to verify when their mail ballot has been received and accepted.
President Donald Trump has urged his supporters to to vote by mail and then go to polling places to see if their ballot was accepted. But going to polls to check whether your vote is counted is unnecessary — in the vast majority of states, you can check your ballot’s status online.
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Voting in the 2020 presidential election began earlier this month on September 4, when North Carolina sent out the first mail ballots of the general election to over 600,000 voters on one day alone. And this year, it’s easier than ever to check online to see if your mail ballot has been received and counted.
Dozens of states have taken steps to make it easier to vote by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with nine states and the District of Columbia, in addition to a number of counties in Montana, sending all or most registered voters a ballot, and more sending out mail ballot applications to all or most voters.
According to an analysis by the National Vote at Home Institute, a nonpartisan group that advocates for states to make it easier for voters to cast ballots safely from home, 46 states and the District of Columbia now have online portals that allow voters to track the status of their ballots every step of the way.
“Ballot tracking is very much similar to tracking a package that you order online, but for mail ballots,” Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the Institute, told reporters on a Monday press call. “It utilizes different data entry points into the process to let a voter know what the status of their mail ballot is from the time it’s been printed and mailed, all the way through to when it’s been received by the election official at the end of the process.”
Now, in 34 states and the District of Columbia, all voters will have access to a ballot tracking system available statewide. In those states, all voters have to do is enter some details like their name, address, and date of birth into the portal to see the status of their ballot.
Five of those states — California, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia — also currently allow voters to sign up for email and/or text message alerts for updates on when their ballot was mailed, received, and accepted, as opposed to the voter having to manually check on their state’s portal. That option is also available in certain counties in other states.
In 12 additional states, ballot tracking is offered in all or some counties at the local level, where voters can verify the status of their ballot or sign up for alerts with their county. You can find out how to track your ballot by going to your state or local election office’s website, and enter your name, address, and date of birth to find the status of your ballot.
This ease of access to a ballot’s status runs counter to President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread mail in ballot rigging and his call for voters who mailed in ballots to check the status at their polling places — when this can be more readily checked online.
Just four states — Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wyoming — currently have no ballot tracking systems at the state or county level in use for the November election. If you’re in one of those states and have concerns about the status of your ballot, you can contact your local election office.
Since early September, over 45,000 Americans, mostly in North Carolina, have already returned ballots to their local election officials, according to a database maintained by Michael McDonald, an election scholar at the University of Florida.
Election officials in over 15 states are set to begin mailing out thousands of more ballots to domestic voters who have already requested them this week and to overseas and military voters. Under federal law, election officials must send ballots out to military and overseas voters who have signed up to vote absentee no later than 45 days before the election, which falls on September 19 this year.
Voting from home is more accessible than ever before in 2020, but it still poses challenges for voters unfamiliar with the process of voting by mail.
And in numerous primary elections across the country this year, several states including New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia had statewide or localized issues with voters not receiving their ballots at all, receiving them too late, or having their ballots arrive back at their election offices too late.
Some of the administrative problems with mail voting and recent service disruptions and delays with the US Postal Service have left many voters anxious about voting by mail. And recently, Trump spread further confusion by urging voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to vote by mail and then go to polling places to see if their ballot was accepted and vote in-person if not.
Not only is voting twice in a federal election illegal under federal law and in most states, but going to the polls to check whether your vote is counted is unnecessary and will simply create longer lines at polling places, officials say. In the vast majority of states, you can check on the status of your ballot and ensure that it was accepted online from the comfort of your home.
McReynolds explained that most ballot tracking systems use data points inputted both from election offices themselves, like when a voter’s ballot request is received and processed, and from Intelligent Mail Barcodes. Election officials or their vendors can affix those barcodes to the envelopes containing voters’ ballots, which provide voters with updated data on the status of their ballot when they are scanned at every step.
One of the largest vendors working with election officials to provide ballot tracking systems is Colorado-based company BallotTrax, whose technology is now being used in 25 states and hundreds of counties, the company said in a September 10 press release. BallotTrax’s technology has helped localities track over 60 million ballots since 2009, the firm estimates.
“Voters using BallotTrax get a tracking service similar to Amazon’s package tracking, allowing voters to sign up for text, email and phone notifications alerting them to the status of their ballot, from when it is printed, sent, delivered and, most importantly, officially tabulated,” the company’s CEO Steve Olson said. “No longer do voters have to wonder if their mail-in ballot was actually counted.”
Ballot tracking systems can also allow officials to quickly alert voters if there’s a problem with their ballot that must be fixed, like a missing signature on the outer envelope or a signature that doesn’t match what the election office has on file in states that use signature verification. Signature discrepancies have been increasingly common reasons for ballots to be challenged or rejected in 2020, a recent NPR analysis found.
Jocelyn Bucaro, the current Director of the Denver Elections Division, also told reporters that in addition to enhancing peace of mind for voters that their vote was counted, ballot tracking also helps the security and integrity of a ballot as it goes from each point along the way.
“In urban areas like Denver where people live in apartment buildings with mailboxes that are not necessarily right outside their front door, people are not always checking their mail every day,” she said. “So if they get that notification and they know that their ballot is waiting for them in their mailbox, it’s a helpful reminder and an important security feature.”
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