Tracking and Reporting: The Future of Voting by Mail

Roughly half of Americans cast their ballots by mail in 2020. Of those that voted by mail, 81% said they would be likely to do so again.

Robert F. Witko
President and CEO
Fort Orange Press

Roughly half of Americans cast their ballots by mail in 2020. Of those that voted by mail, 81% said they would be likely to do so again. With more Americans anticipating voting by mail to continue, many states have begun to enact election-related legislation. As of May 2021 there are at least 115 bills with expansive voting provisions that are moving across 25 states, in addition to the bills that have already become law. More than half of the expansive bills that are moving forward will make it easier for voters to cast their vote by mail. The remaining bills will work to ensure more accessibility and increased availability for casting votes in general.

Voting by mail is here to stay. The question becomes how can states ensure voting by mail is transparent, secure and accurate? One way to alleviate skepticism about voting by mail practices is to ensure that all mail-in ballots are easily tracked and accounted for by officials and voters alike through the entire absentee vote by mail process.

Of all the election-related legislation moving through states, tracking and reporting of mail-in ballots has become a major focus. The National Vote at Home Institute is actively recommending the adoption of tracking and reporting tools to states that are transitioning to absentee voting by mail. Additionally, several states have pending legislation requiring that tracking tools are in place for the next election. California Governor Newsom signed an executive order in June 2021 requiring county elections officials to use tracking barcodes on all ballot envelopes statewide.

How Does Ballot Tracking Work?

The barcodes Governor Newsom is referencing are what enable tracking through the mail stream. Here’s how it works: Each ballot mailed to a voter must have a USPS Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb). The intelligent tracking barcode is 65 long and short bars that code for information such as the mailer who sends it, the zip code of its destination and its specific identification as an election ballot, which gives it more urgency. The tracking and reporting system analyzes the USPS data and sorts it into information that provides voters and election officials the ballot’s status at each stage of the process. The most sophisticated tracking and reporting technology offers a transparent reporting platform that can be utilized by election officials, as well as a public-facing application for voters.

Voters can track their ballot from the point it leaves the election office or mailing facility, arrives at their home and is returned to its final destination. A simple, secure online portal makes it easy for voters to sign in to find answers to their questions. Using a secure web portal, voters can also opt to receive timely notifications and alerts from the election office, tailored to their communication and language preferences.

What Are the Benefits of Tracking Ballots?

Ballot tracking has some obvious benefits to voters (e.g., resting easy knowing their vote was counted). But there is also significant value offered to election officials who are trying to adapt quickly to the increasing demands of voting by mail. Intelligent tracking tools can simplify and expedite the entire voting by mail process while maximizing accountability and reducing operational costs.

Tracking and reporting benefits include:

Accountability – Access to real-time status updates during the entire ballot production process as well as at each stage of the outbound and inbound mail stream keeps everyone informed and ensures all parties are held accountable for their specific responsibilities.

Assurance – The closed-loop system audits and verifies every step in the process and offers a secure paper trail that can be followed for each and every ballot produced and mailed. This ensures that only one ballot is sent to each registered voter requesting a ballot and only one ballot is returned and counted.

Insight – Tracking and reporting provides high level information on ballot trends at the state, county and jurisdiction levels. Using a reporting system allows election offices to compile and review data and information much more quickly and thoroughly.

Efficiency – Intelligent tracking saves time (and money) by eliminating the need to manually trackdown information or field calls/emails from voters. The technology does the work for you and can also be set up to communicate information based on voters’ (and election officials’) preferences.

Effectiveness – Tracking technology not only makes the job of election officials more successful and effective, it also builds voter confidence, encourages voter engagement and has been shown to increase voter turnout.

Options for Tracking Mail-In Ballots

Election officials considering tracking and reporting for the next election cycle have options:

Don’t include tracking – While states may have been able to get away without tracking technology in the past, this will no longer be permitted, as rapidly changing legislation will require it.

Hire a ‘software as service’ company – There are third party firms that offer tracking services as an add-on to what is being produced by the print and mail vendor. This will require a relationship with a separate vendor who will need to upload and transfer files throughout the process, but without assurance that information is up-to-date and accurate in real-time.

Develop your own tracking system – This is a heavy lift for already overworked election administration offices, as you will need to develop, test, manage and support a new system on top of existing election systems.

See if your current ballot printing and mailing partner offers tracking and reporting technology – More election printing and mailing companies are becoming a one-stop shop for election officials including transparent, secure and accurate tracking and reporting technologies. If your current partner does not offer this technology, finding one that does sooner rather than later will save you time, resources and frustration.

Election printing and mailing partners offer the reporting and tracking service as part of their comprehensive absentee vote by mail program. The benefit of having your current printing and mailing partner offer the reporting and tracking service is that as an election official, you will be able to not only offer ballot tracking to voters, you will also be able to track and report on all aspects of ballot production from a custom dashboard. Reports are in real-time, providing all the necessary information to keep you informed and assured through every step of the process.

Tracking and reporting are essential for successful vote by mail initiatives. You do not need to do it alone.

About the author: Robert F. Witko is President and CEO of Fort Orange Press in Albany, NY. The company has over 100 years of state election printing expertise. For more information, call 800-777-3233 or email

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