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Mail Voting Accuracy

Election officials use many checks to ensure mail voting is secure against widespread fraud and tampering.

Published: April 23, 2024
View the entire Election Rumors in 2024 series

Fact: Election officials use many checks to ensure mail voting is secure.

Mail voting is a long-standing practice in the United States, originating as a means to allow soldiers to vote during the Civil War. Today, 28 states allow all voters to use mail ballots, and every state allows at least some voters to do so. Every state has a well-tested and multilayered system of checks to ensure the security of mail voting, though practices vary. 

Signature verification is one component of a series of checks that secure mail voting. In the 31 states that use signature comparison to verify mail ballots (every state requires that voters sign the ballot envelope, and some require additional information to verify voter identity), election workers are trained to analyze and compare signatures across multiple records. Some officials receive training that law enforcement uses to detect forgeries. If election workers are uncertain about whether the signatures match, multiple states require ballots to be sent to a bipartisan team for a second review. Finally, 30 states require that officials contact a voter when the signature on their mail ballot is inconsistent or missing. Where fraud is suspected, the case is sent to law enforcement for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution.

Many other security features prevent individuals from submitting ballots on behalf of others or voting more than once. Forty-two states require voters to request a mail ballot. These requests go through a verification process, where election workers compare the request to the voter’s registration record to ensure each ballot is sent to the correct voter and that only one ballot is sent to each voter. The remaining eight states send mail ballots to every eligible voter each election; frequent mailings help keep voter registration records up to date so that ballots are sent to eligible voters at their current address. 

Once officials know which voters will receive a mail ballot, election workers prepare individualized mailings for each eligible requestor that includes the correct ballot, the absentee ballot return envelope, and the outer envelope, which is addressed to the voter. The envelopes are typically marked with a unique serial number or bar code to ensure that only one valid ballot is returned per voter. Nearly every state offers ballot tracking for election officials and voters, which limits opportunities for ballots to be diverted while in transit between an election office and a voter. 

These security features work hand in hand to provide a multilayered security framework. Anyone who still attempts to evade these security measures risks severe criminal penalties: up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines for each act of fraud under federal law, in addition to any state penalties.

Mail voting malfeasance is exceptionally rare. If it does occur, these security checks enable election officials to prevent ineligible ballots from being counted and enable law enforcement to hold bad actors accountable.. 

States use many additional checks that keep the process secure and prevent widespread fraud, beyond those that guard against voter impersonation. Read more about those features here.

Rumor: Mail voting is vulnerable to widespread fraud and tampering, including the ability to cast a ballot in another voter’s name.

While mail voting is not new, its increased use in recent years has led to false allegations that the practice is vulnerable to widespread fraud and tampering. Rumors circulated online include allegations that bad actors can submit fraudulent ballots in the names of other voters without being caught.

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We worked with Swayable, a research software platform that measures how effectively media content changes opinions, to determine what messages helped voters best understand the facts. 

Suggested counter-messages based on our testing:

  • Election officials have checks and balances to verify ballot signatures, including teams of two — a Republican and a Democrat — who review signatures.
  • Election officials have checks and balances to verify ballot signatures, and have training and safeguards throughout the process to catch attempted fraud.

The messages above were found to be most effective in communicating the facts, though differences exist by region and demographic group. See Swayable’s dashboard to examine more detailed results for the first counter-message, including other messages tested.