Mail-in ballots that meet eligibility and validity requirements are counted in every election. The law requires all valid votes to be counted in every election regardless of how they are cast.
State laws vary on how voters can cast ballots. Generally, voters can cast ballots in person during early voting or on Election Day, or through the mail. Voting by mail is also known as “absentee” voting.
In almost all states, voters who are concerned about the coronavirus pandemic are eligible to request a mail-in ballot from their election officials or will receive one automatically. Due to COVID-related concerns, voters in some states will be automatically mailed a mail ballot application to encourage you to vote that way.
Voters must be registered to vote to request and cast a mail-in ballot. You can check your voter registration status at canivote.org.
Ballots cast in person during early voting or on Election Day are validated for eligibility when the voter checks in to vote. A poll worker determines the voter’s status on the spot. The validation of mail-in ballots happens after they are returned by the voter. The ballot envelope typically requires a voter’s signature or other identifying information. Election officials check to make sure that the ballot signature matches that voter’s signature on file. The mail-in ballot also must be postmarked, received by an election official, or both, by a date set in state law. Once validated, the ballot is separated from its envelope and sorted for counting.
It can take local election officials more time to count a larger than normal number of mail-in ballots. These extra validation and processing steps mean that reported mail-in ballot totals are not complete by the evening on Election Day.
All election night totals are unofficial, and this was true even in past years. When election results are certified as official, they include all valid ballots cast during the election, including those submitted by mail.
This year, many voters will choose to cast their ballots by mail due to concerns about COVID-19. A higher percentage of ballots cast by mail means that it will take more time for election officials to carefully process and count all votes than in previous presidential elections.
Voters should not expect results on election night. A delay in results does not mean that fraudulent votes are being counted. Instead, it means that election officials and volunteers are being careful and ensuring that the counting process is accurate.