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The New Realities of Voting by Mail in 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

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In November, millions of voters will cast their ballots outside their neighborhood polling places. These voters will, in many cases, have applied for an absentee ballot, marked the ballot, and returned it to the elections office either via the United States Postal Service (USPS) or at designated ballot-drop locations in their jurisdictions.

The vote-by-mail process can be more convenient for voters who are unable or unwilling to contend with lines at polling places on Election Day. However, voting by mail is not a voting option without risk. Outdated laws, new administrative policies, and the realities of the political process today introduce obstacles voters may not be aware of. Without recognizing that voting by mail in 2016 is very different than in years past, voters are more likely to unwittingly disenfranchise themselves.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) in its 2014 report to the president and vice president recommended an expansion of voting opportunities before Election Day, specifically in early voting and voting by mail. The PCEA further identified best practices for mail balloting, such as the adoption of safeguards, including online tracking of absentee ballots so voters can verify the status of their ballot.

Without recognizing that voting by mail in 2016 is very different than in years past, voters are more likely to unwittingly disenfranchise themselves.

Election procedures and policies are deeply rooted in statutory requirements at both the state and federal levels. The design of mail ballots and materials and the internal office processes for administering mail voting are often set at the county or city level. Every state and local jurisdiction should do a full review of their laws, policies, and procedures for absentee voting and mail-ballot delivery to strengthen the electoral infrastructure.

This report includes recommendations for action by voters, election officials, lawmakers, and the USPS in order to ensure voting by mail remains a secure and efficient option for participation in American elections.

KEYWORDS: PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION ON ELECTION ADMINISTRATION, UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE

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