OIG Releases Vote By Mail Primer

The U.S. Postal Service delivered more than 135 million ballots to or from voters in the 2020 general election. Vote by mail had been growing steadily in usage in the United States, even before the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused millions of voters to cast mail ballots for the first time in 2020.

The vote-by-mail process is decentralized and widely varied, with a patchwork of laws and procedures from state to state. As an increasing number of voters have chosen to vote by mail, variations in these laws and procedures have created challenges for the Postal Service, which manages the handling and delivery of these ballots on a national scale. In this white paper, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) objective was to provide an overview of vote-by-mail processes, variability of those processes, and challenges for the Postal Service and others within these processes. We did not examine temporary changes made in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The decentralized nature of elections is rooted in the Constitution, which gives states the power to determine the time, place, and manner of elections. Within the states, elections are generally administered locally. At a high level, the vote-by-mail process involves local election officials (often with the help of private vendors) designing, printing, and mailing ballots to voters who request them — or, in five states that vote primarily by mail, to every registered voter. The voters fill out the ballots and return them to the election office, typically by mail or via a secure drop box. Election officials verify and count the ballots to determine the election results. Nearly two-thirds of the states then audit the election process to ensure the election’s integrity.

One challenge the Postal Service faces is that states, ballot printers, and local jurisdictions do not always follow best practices when designing and mailing ballots. For example, not all election officials utilize the Postal Service’s ballot-specific Intelligent Mail barcode … (click to read more)