It’s Election Day, do you know where your ballot is?
A mail ballot goes through a lot by the time an election is certified. Many hands touch the ballot, taking it from an election office, through the postal service, to a voter’s home, and then back again. A quick and easy way to keep track of a ballot as it travels and make sure it is counted in an election is through ballot tracking, a process that exists in some form or another in most states.
Why is ballot tracking important?
Tracking a ballot can reaffirm trust in the election system. By following a ballot throughout the entire process, not only is the voting process streamlined, but a voter can guarantee that their ballot is accepted and their vote is counted on election day! Through ballot tracking, voters can quickly be notified if their ballot has been rejected, giving them ample time to fix the problem prior to ballots being counted. The process is completely confidential, so while voters and election officials will know where the ballot is, the vote itself is kept entirely secret. The process is also inclusive, offering messages and notifications in multiple languages and through various mediums for deaf or blind voters.
Not all ballot tracking systems are created equal, however. The National Vote at Home Institute has identified four different levels of ballot tracking across the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
- No ballot tracking: The first level encompasses states with no ballot tracking access. Essentially, a ballot is sent to a voter and after it is filled out and mailed back or returned in person, the voter has no opportunity or ability to track the ballot electronically.
- State portal ballot tracking: State portal ballot tracking allows voters to track their ballot through a state run website. The website typically requires voters to input information such as their name, birthdate, and address, and then returns the “status” of the ballot. Typically, this type of tracking is linked to an individual’s voter file and can only tell voters whether or not their ballot has left the election office, been returned to the election office, and been counted. Occasionally, the portal will indicate if the ballot has been rejected. These state portals do not usually use USPS intelligent mail barcodes and therefore provide less information to a voter.
- Local option ballot tracking: This type of tracking is usually implemented by a city or county and allows some voters at a local level to track their ballot at every stage of the voting process, much like how you’d track an Amazon package. Versions of the services vary, but most voters can choose how they are notified (by text, phone, email, etc.) and voters receive a message when their ballot is in transit, arriving at any given location, and accepted or rejected by the board of elections. In the event that the ballot is rejected, voters are often able to get instructions to “cure” (fix) any issues with their ballots through this service as well.
- Statewide ballot tracking with voter notification: Statewide ballot tracking varies by state, but generally includes all of the benefits of the previous category and is implemented or required across the entire state, giving more voters access to a secure and convenient way to track the progress of their ballot through the system. Moreover, voters are contacted by the state regarding ballot tracking instead of voters having to seek out the information themselves.
Checkout the map below to identify which kind of ballot tracking is used in each state! But as always, we want to stress that the best place for information about a voter’s ballot is from their local election officials. If a voter does not have access to online ballot tracking, they can still call their local officials for more information.