As rates of mail voting increase, some have raised concerns that more mail voting will lead to widespread voter fraud. Not only are rates of voter fraud extremely low, but even before the pandemic all states allowed some form of mail voting, with the majority of states allowing no-excuse absentee voting or all-mail voting.
The most common myth about vote by mail is that mail-in ballots are more susceptible to voter fraud.
Colorado’s Elections Director Judd Choate gives an counter-example of why this is untrue:
People who vote in person sometimes don’t update their addresses, even when they have moved. But because it’s an in person voting model, the state or county doesn’t go to great extremes to keep [address] lists clean.
In comparison, jurisdictions with all-mail elections must constantly update voters’ addresses to ensure that the right voters receive the right ballots. As a result, when a person moves, they are unlikely to get the wrong ballot by mail, whereas an in-person voter with an outdated address could be going to the wrong polling place for years.
Choate summarized: “In that way, vote-by-mail actually reduces fraud instead of promoting it.”
Based on her experience as Washington State’s Director of Elections, Lori Augino added that “Of the nearly 3.2 million ballots cast [in Washington in 2018], only 0.004% of the total ballots cast may have been fraudulent.”
The linchpin of ballot security is signature verification. Every single signature on every single ballot that is returned to a county election official is checked against the signature on file in a voter’s registration record. This enables officials to do to two things: (1) ensure the ballot was returned by an eligible voter, and (2) if the signature on the ballot envelope does not match the signature on file, it gives the voter a chance to either update their record or alert election officials that the ballot returned may be fraudulent.
There is a process called "ballot curing."
“First, we contact the voter to mitigate the specific issue,” Augino said. Contacting voters about signature irregularities, or curing, is an essential part of any absentee voting process as it gives voters a chance to fix ballot errors before discarding them entirely.
Second, Choate explained that through the curing process officials determine “if the voter simply can’t repeat their signature, or if someone else voted the ballot.” Augino added that if it becomes clear that a voter’s file simply has an outdated signature, the voter would be given a chance to update their signature file to avoid any issues in the future.
Finally, in the rare case that a ballot was cast fraudulently, election officials work with law enforcement to prosecute offenders. According to Augino, “In Washington state, it’s a Class C felony to commit voter fraud. When we find evidence, we take it seriously and forward it to law enforcement for investigation and consideration for prosecution.”
In the end, state and local election officials across the country, are focused on ensuring that the elections they oversee are secure, legitimate, and accessible.