More voters are using mail ballots across the country and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need to explore options to increase vote by mail opportunities. Voting by Mail/Absentee Voting is also essential part of the elections process for citizens away from home, such as our military and overseas voters. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) and the United States Postal Service (USPS) continue to work together to ensure the entire voting by mail/absentee voting process works smoothly and efficiently. Below are COVID-19 specific resources and other resources to help election officials identify procedures, strategies, and policies for ensuring mail ballots get cast and counted, and all election-related materials that help citizens cast these ballots are delivered in a timely manner.
The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted primary elections, and some election officials are considering increasing vote by mail options for upcoming primaries and the general election. On March 20, 2020, EAC Chairman Ben Hovland moderated a discussion with state and county election officials about factors officials should consider for increased vote by mail. Officials discussed their experiences with vote by mail, and their thoughts about timelines, staffing, facilities, vendors, working with the U.S. Postal Service, and other considerations.
- Presentation – Interview 1: Preliminary Planning for Increased Voting by Mail/Absentee Voting Capacity - COVID19 Potential Response
- Interview 2: Preliminary Planning for Increased Voting by Mail/Absentee Voting Capacity - COVID19 Potential Response
- Interview 3: Improving Communications for Increased Voting by Mail/Absentee Voting - COVID19 Potential Response
- Interview 4: Handling Increased Absentee and Mail Voting at the County Level - COVID19 Potential Response
- Interview 5: Handling Absentee Ballot Requests for Increased Voting by Mail
- Interview 6: Emergency Election Laws and COVID-19
GCC and SCC Resources
This series of documents was created as part of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) and Sector Coordinating Council’s (SCC) Joint COVID Working Group. These documents provide guidance for state, local, tribal, and territorial election officials on how to administer and secure election infrastructure in light of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Importance of Accurate Voter Data When Expanding Absentee or Mail Ballot Voting – This document provides election officials who are expanding the use of absentee or mail voting with considerations to ensure voter data is accurate. It covers topics such as risks associated with incorrect voter records, operational considerations such as methods for correcting voter registration records, and securing voter registration data.
Election Education and Outreach for Increased Absentee or Mail Voting – This document contains questions election officials should address when developing education and outreach strategies for increased absentee or mail voting. It covers topics such as different forms of voting, accessible voting, processing and tabulating vote by mail ballots, considering who you are communicating to, ballot design, communication platforms, and more.
Electronic Ballot Delivery and Marking – Expanding electronic ballot delivery and marking is one option that may be considered by election officials while providing voters ways to cast a ballot privately and independently. This document provides a list of considerations for election officials determining whether the expansion of electronic ballot delivery and marking is appropriate for their jurisdiction.
Helping Voters to Request a Mail-in Ballot – This document includes questions and answers to help election officials implement expanded vote by mail application processes.
Managing an Increase in Outbound Ballots – This document includes questions and answers for election officials who are faced with scaling up for mailing ballots. The document primarily focuses on partnerships with procurement offices, designers, envelope and mail ballot print vendors, the US Postal Service (USPS), and mail fulfillment centers.
Inbound Ballot Process – This document outlines considerations for a typical inbound ballot process in a high-volume mail ballot environment. The inbound ballot process covers everything that takes place from the time ballots are brought back to the counting facility by ballot collection teams or delivered by USPS, until the ballots are permanently sealed in storage containers for the retention period. This includes ballot receiving, ballot verification, ballot preparation, ballot scanning, ballot tabulation, and post-election audits.
Ballot Drop Box – This document outlines things to know and consider when planning for the use of ballot drop boxes including general considerations, recommendations on closing boxes, and security considerations. A drop box is a secure, locked structure operated by election officials where voters may deliver their ballots from the time they receive them in the mail up to the time polls close on Election Day.
Signature Verification and Cure Process – This document answers some frequently asked questions about the signature verification and curing process, outlining processes, and addressing security considerations.
This vote by mail/ absentee voting timeline is a joint product of the Government Coordinating Council and the Sector Coordinating Council. This timeline is meant to help state and local officials determine where they are in the process of expanding vote by mail in their state or community, what needs to be done, and what is on the critical path vs. not.
- Vote By Mail/ Absentee Voting Timeline – Excel and PDF – This vote by mail timeline is a joint product of the Government Coordinating Council and the Sector Coordinating Council. This timeline is meant to help state and local officials determine where they are in the process of expanding vote by mail in their state or community, what needs to be done, and what is on the critical path vs. not.
A few things to know about the product:
- The dates are approximations that can’t take into account state laws or rules that dictate certain timeframes.
- This is not specific to full 100% vote by mail. These same tasks are required if you are simply increasing your vote by mail activity.
- The dates work backward from Election Day. This means -90 = 90 days until Election Day.
- The tasks are broken out by category and there will be corresponding FAQ’s created by each category to inform the tasks created in this timeline.
Note: Tell voters to assume one week for USPS delivery! This message should be consistently communicated to voters who use mail ballots.
- Military and Diplomatic Mail (APO/FPO) has NOT been disrupted. Additional guidance can be found on the FVAP COVID-19 Updates page.
Mail Service Alerts and Updates – This page includes current information on mail service suspensions and disruptions which are important for election officials as they consider timelines and outreach to domestic and UOCAVA voters for upcoming elections during the pandemic. Mail service alerts and updates are provided on USPS.com® to inform the public and the mailing industry when service is suspended or embargoed at Post Office™ facilities for any reason, including natural disasters such as floods or fires and quarantines. Information is updated frequently and updates are made in real time.
USPS Statement on Coronavirus – This media statement outlines what the Postal Service is doing to reduce health risks for our employees and customers and to safeguard our operational and business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
About Election Mail: This provides an overview of election mail, which includes any item mailed to or from authorized elections officials that enables citizens to vote, such as ballot materials, voter registration cards, absentee ballot applications and polling place notifications.
Election Mail Kit – Resources for everything election officials need to prepare, design, and send election mail.
Election Mail Checklist – Quick steps and links for election officials related to the election mail process.
Creating Election Mail – Guidance for election officials on creating a properly designed mail piece.
Service Alerts – Provides information about postal facility service disruptions due to weather-related and other natural disasters or events.
ElectionMail.org: Resolve Mail Ballot Issues Directly and Immediately with USPS
ElectionMail.org is ongoing project of Democracy Works. It was initially launched with funding from a 2015 Democracy Fund Network Grant in conjunction with the Bipartisan Policy Center. The website is designed to provide election administrators with information about common election mail problems and an easy way to report any problems they encounter.
Webisode: How to Make Sure Your Vote by Mail Ballots Count (Full Video)
Webisode Clip (3-minute Video)
State and Local Resources
Colorado Secretary of State
Mail Ballot Plan (Election Policy Manual, Chapter 4: Mail Ballot Elections)
Ballot Processing (Election Policy Manual, Chapter 8: Ballot Processing and Voter Intent)
City and County of Denver, Colorado
Ohio Secretary of State
Election Office Manual (Chapter 5, Absentee Voting)
Please submit additional best practices and other vote-by-mail resources to [email protected].