Mail-In Voting: Make sure your ballot counts


The November election is just a few weeks away. Many states across the country have changed their voting policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that citizens can cast their ballots safely. While many people are still expected to head to the polls on November 3, it’s estimated that more Americans than ever before will cast their votes by mail. 


While many are understandably concerned about sending their ballots through the mail, experts say that it’s a safe and secure method. Here’s what you need to know about mail-in voting to ensure that your ballot counts this year. 


How does mail-in voting work?

Depending on where you live, you may automatically receive a ballot in the mail or you may need to request one. Contact your local election office for more information on the specific requirements for acquiring a mail-in ballot where you live.

If you must request a ballot, it can take a few days to a few weeks to receive it in the mail. Once you receive it, follow the instructions included with the ballot on how to properly fill it out and return it. You may need to provide your own postage to return your ballot. 


You should return your ballot as quickly as possible. While many states will count votes if they arrive after election day (but within the grace period) as long as they are postmarked by November 3, in other states, your ballot must arrive on or before election day to count.


Do all states allow mail-in voting? 

All states allow some form of mail-in or absentee voting. Some states are taking the initiative this year and mailing ballots to every registered voter. However, in many states, you need to request your ballot and provide an accepted reason why you need to vote by mail. Only five states (Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas) have strict requirements for requesting an absentee ballot and won’t allow the pandemic as an excuse. 


Can a ballot be rejected?

There are a few reasons why mail-in ballots might be rejected. The most common reason a mail-in ballot may be rejected is because it arrives late. Many states have taken steps to avoid this by stating you need to have your ballot postmarked by election day as opposed to received by election day. 


Other reasons why an absentee ballot may be rejected include:


  • Your signature on the ballot doesn’t match the one you have on file.
  • You sent the ballot in the wrong envelope (either you didn’t use the one provided or you and someone you live with switched envelopes).
  • You didn’t fill in the ballot correctly (you checked the boxes instead of filling them in).
  • Your ballot has stray marks, crinkles, or rips.


Will I be notified if my ballot is rejected?

Depending on where you live, your state may notify you if your ballot gets rejected. Many states also provide you with a way to track your ballot after you mail it in, so you can track its progress and see when it gets accepted. The tracker may also let you know if there’s an issue, which can allow you to take action right away. 


What should I do if my ballot gets rejected?

The best way to avoid ballot rejection is to avoid the potential pitfalls mentioned above. Make sure to fill out your ballot completely and ensure that it doesn’t have any stray marks. Provide the necessary information and use the correct envelope. You should also allow plenty of time for your ballot to arrive at your local election office and be properly counted.


If there’s an issue with your signature, you may be able to correct it. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a list of several states that will allow you to fix your ballot if it gets rejected for a signature discrepancy. For instance, Massachusetts residents can submit a new absentee ballot while Washington residents must sign and submit a curing statement before election certification (which is 21 days after election day). 

Make sure your vote counts 

If you plan to vote by mail this year, make sure you request and fill out your ballot as early as possible. With predictions that more people than ever before will vote by mail in this November’s election, experts expect delays. The sooner you send in your ballot, the more likely it is to arrive on time and be properly counted. Your voice matters, so make sure your ballot counts.