Voting by mail

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This article generally discusses voting by mail in the United States.


Vote-by-mail or Postal voting is a method of voting in an election whereby ballot papers are distributed and/or returned by post to electors, in contrast to electors voting in person at a polling station or electronically via an electronic voting system. A ballot is mailed to the home of a registered voter, the voter fills it out and returns it via postal mail.

Ballots are sent out, usually, three weeks before the election date, after a voter's pamphlet has been distributed. To vote by mail, an individual marks the ballot for their choice of the candidates (or writes in their name), places the ballot in a secrecy envelope, seals it, places it in the provided mailing envelope, seals it and signs and dates the back of the mailing envelope. This envelope is then either stamped and mailed at any mailbox, or dropped off (postage free) at a local ballot collection center.

There is a cut off date for mailing ballots and it is determined by the local voting jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, postmarks do not count, and ballots must be received by a certain time on election day. In other jurisdictions, a ballot must have a postmark on or before the day of the election and be received prior to the date of certification. Many vote-by-mail jurisdictions enlist the help of volunteers to take ballots in walk up "Drop off Booths" or drive-up "Quick Drop" locations. The Help America Vote Act requires some polling options, often at central election headquarters, with machines designed for voting by those disabled who cannot vote a normal ballot.


It is of benefit to people who may not be able to attend an election in person, either through a physical disability or absence from the locality. This method of voting is available to voters upon application (sometimes with restrictions) in statutory elections in many democratic countries.

Proponents argue that the process eliminates the requirements to staff and run a polling center during an election, and can result in considerable cost savings to taxpayers. Balloting materials may be sent via the United States Postal Service without prepayment of postage.[1]


Concerns about postal voting have been raised as to whether it complies with the requirements of a secret ballot, in that people cast their vote outside the security of a polling station. There have been cases of electoral fraud with postal votes in the UK (including at the 2004 European and local government elections in Birmingham)[2][3][4]

Postal voting can be a way to prevent manipulation of an election through get out the vote efforts, for instance, in state conventions of a society, in which supporters of a cause or candidate bus in their supporters to vote and then bus them back.

First State with vote-by-mail

In the U.S., the first state to establish vote-by-mail was Oregon. In 1998, Oregonians passed an initiative requiring that all elections be conducted by mail. Voters may also drop their ballots off at a county designated official drop site. Oregon has since reduced the cost of elections.

Other states with vote by mail

Washington - In 1993, Washington State began allowing voters to vote by mail in all elections. Currently, thirty-seven out of the state's thirty-nine counties are entirely vote-by-mail. The state's two largest counties, King and Pierce, still maintain poll sites, despite a large majority of voters in those counties voting by mail. King County plans on switching over to all mail voting in 2009, while Pierce County is still considering the issue.


When Oregon's 1998 ballot measure appeared, it was probably the leading watercooler discussion issue on the ballot. The voter's pamphlet arguments (here) capture the intensity of the disagreement.

More recently, Project Vote published their findings in an article titled "Vote-by-Mail Doesn't Deliver" by Michael Slater and Teresa James. The article's conclusion states, "Thanks largely to Oregon’s experience, many reform-minded advocates and policymakers have become persuaded that vote-by-mail stimulates increased voter turnout with few drawbacks. We think the facts don’t support their arguments. VBM reinforces the stratification of the electorate; it’s more amenable to both fraud and manipulation than voting at polling places; and it depends too much on the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service." ([1])

The No Vote By Mail Project has also documented the rise of the multi-week vote counts, vote-buying, granny-farming, and many other problems and concerns that have arisen due to the increased use of absentee ballots and propagation of Vote-by Mail systems. ([2])

In Malaysia, opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim alleges that postal votes has been used by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in securing seats in certain constituencies.[5] He also said that in one particular constituency (Setiawangsa), he claimed that his Parti Keadilan Rakyat had actually won during the 2008 elections, before 14,000 postal votes came in awarding the incumbent BN parliamentarian the seat with a majority of 8,000 votes.[6] In Malaysia, only teachers, military personnel, and policemen based away from their constituencies are eligible to submit postal votes.

International Voting by Mail

All-Postal Voting in New Zealand]

All-Postal Voting is used for local elections in New Zealand. Unlike the United States, no security envelope is used. The ballot is simply sent in the mailing envelope. It has been tested by a large number of local authorities in the United Kingdom for their elections, and in 2004 it was used for elections to the European Parliament and local authorities in four of the English regions (see below for more details).


Swiss federal law allows postal voting in all federal elections and referenda, and all cantons also allow it for cantonal ballot issues. All voters receive their personal ballot by mail and may either cast it at a polling station or mail it back.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom votes cast via postal voting are called Postal votes. Any elector is entitled to request a postal vote (known as Postal voting on demand) without giving a reason.

There have been allegations of electoral fraud as the postal vote does not need to be sent to the voter's address but can be sent anywhere of their choosing, allowing fraudsters to 'farm' postal votes. As a result, electors requesting a postal vote must now provide their date of birth and signature, which can be matched with that submitted with the postal vote.

However, this measure does not tackle cases of fraud where false names are added to the electoral register and postal votes obtained, since the same fraudster provides the personal identifiers for both the registration and the postal vote.

There have been cases of electoral fraud with postal votes in the UK (including at the 2004 European and local government elections in Birmingham)[7][8][9]

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