Vote-by-Mail in the United States has been on the rise for some time, increasing from approximately 5% of all ballots cast in the early 90’s to almost half of all ballots cast in the 2020 election. At present, 34 states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow any voter to request a mail ballot without requiring a specific reason or excuse, and five states–Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington–conduct all elections entirely by mail.
Increased relevance for Vote-by-Mail.
During 2020, the global pandemic made gathering in large numbers to cast a vote in-person less appealing than doing so safely from home. As a result, many states changed their rules to enable easier use of mail voting. “Nobody should need to make a decision between their health and their right to vote,” said Connecticut Governor Lamont upon signing an executive order allowing Connecticut voters to request an absentee ballot during the 2020 election. As a result, Vote-by-Mail increased to 46-percent of votes cast in 2020—more than twice the volume of the 2016 election, according to an MIT Election Lab 2020 Survey of the Performance of American Elections from March 20211.
While the axis had already begun to tilt toward mail-in voting, the global pandemic increased the use of Vote-by-Mail exponentially. About half of the ballots that were sent to voters were returned by mail and an additional twenty-two percent were returned to drop boxes1.While the circumstances that drove the Vote-by-Mail increase in 2020 was a once-in-a-generation event, election officials should not expect mail voting to go away. According to an MIT survey following the 2020 election, sixty percent of mail voters responded that it was “very likely” when asked about the likelihood to vote-by-mail again, while 21-percent said they were “somewhat likely” 2.
Election officials need to be prepared to manage this increase in mail-in volume for the foreseeable future, as states will continue to experience the increasing use of vote-by-mail. Election Officials need to consider ways of not only managing the growing volume of mail-in ballots, but they must do so with absolute integrity and transparency.
Integrity and transparency are imperative to maintain voter confidence.
Any electoral process needs to demonstrate the utmost accuracy, security, and transparency in order to maintain voter confidence—and voting by mail is no exception. Mail voting involves a myriad of complex steps throughout the process, each requiring 100% accuracy. Election officials must be certain that each ballot packet was correctly prepared, printed, and assembled for mailing, and that the correct ballot type is being sent to the correct voter. But it is not simply a question of preparing mail ballots correctly, election officials must often provide proof of accurate processing and a complete “chain of custody”, even after the ballots have left their office and are being delivered or returned by the USPS.
Lastly, envelopes returned by voters must be verified prior to acceptance and the voter registration system must be updated for assigned voter credit. Throughout this process, election officials need to be able to address questions and concerns raised by constituents, including any inquiries as to the whereabouts or accuracy of every mail-in ballot. In fact, 52% of mail ballot voters tracked their ballot’s status through a website or app, according to the survey conducted by Pew Research2.
Along with the increased use of mail ballots during the 2020 election has come increased scrutiny, requiring election officials to provide a much more detailed level of auditability and transparency. It’s no longer good enough to complete the mail voting process in a timely and accurate fashion. Election officials are now often asked to provide proof to skeptical constituents. By leveraging innovative ballot processing technology, election officials can now create a digital record with full forensics of the entire process, providing transparency both for those running the election and for the voters themselves. This election technology provides audit trails that validate ballot packets were assembled properly and on time, while simultaneously reducing the time and manpower over traditional manual processes. The same level of automation and transparency can also be applied for the validating, accepting, sorting, and opening of the returned ballots.
Saving taxpayer money.
Taxpayers enjoy a significant upside when election officials implement automated solutions. Today, most election offices manually process mail-in ballots, which usually means hiring, training, and managing a large number of temporary workers. As mail-in ballot volumes increases, it makes sense to automate these manual processes to minimize or eliminate the cost and labor associated with manual processing. Additionally, automated solutions often enable the use of postal discounts, thereby helping to reduce a large cost component of mail voting.
Now is the time to prepare for the next election.
The 2020 election was historic on many counts, one of which was the huge percentage of America’s voters using the mail to cast their vote. Election officials managed an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots, often without optimal tools or technology. Now is the time to take advantage of technology that can both reduce costs and help to manage your growing volumes of Vote-by-Mail with accuracy and integrity.
Relia-Vote by BlueCrest has been helping election officials automate mail voting for more than 16 years. Our solution suite includes election approved ballot printers, high integrity mail packet assembling solutions, postal tracking tools, and secure inbound sorting, opening and signature validation equipment.
1 MIT Election Lab, March 2021, “How we voted in 2020. A new look at the data”
2 Pew Research Center, November 2020, “The voting experience in 2020”