Voting by Mail Myths

MYTH:  If I leave something blank on my ballot, my ballot won’t be counted.

FALSE!  If a voter doesn’t make a choice for a contest, no vote is recorded for that contest only. The rest of the ballot still counts. You can vote for as many or as few contests on your ballot as you choose.

MYTH:  Vote-by-mail ballots are thrown out if they arrive after Election Day.

FALSE!  County election officials will process and count all valid vote-by-mail ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive no later than 14 days after the election.

MYTH:  Vote-by-mail ballots are only counted if there is a close race. 

FALSE!  County election officials will process and count all valid vote-by-mail ballots that are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive no later than 14 days after the election.

MYTH:  If you mail ballots to more voters, people will ask for “replacement ballots” and vote multiple times or duplicate the ballot and vote multiple times.

FALSE!  Ballot envelopes are barcoded to the individual voter. Upon return, only one ballot from any voter is accepted - the first one in. Others are rejected – and if criminal intent is suspected, the voter could be prosecuted. Ballots in an envelope with no barcode are rejected. 

MYTH:  Anyone can intercept the mail and vote someone else’s ballot.

FALSE!  Voter validation is key, and the recommended best practice today is signature verification. This means every return ballot envelope is signed by the voter, and each signature is validated based on official signatures already on file – e.g. the voter’s registration document, prior election ballot envelopes, motor vehicle transactions, etc. Signature judges can be trained utilizing best practices from handwriting experts, including many from law enforcement.

If the signature doesn’t match, the voter is contacted immediately and given multiple paths to resolve the discrepancy. This “cure” period extends 14 days after Election Day to allow all votes to be counted. 

Stealing a mailed-out ballot is a crime. And if a voter doesn’t receive a ballot, or loses it, she/he can simply contact their local election office for a replacement. 

MYTH:  If you mail out ballots non-citizens will be able to vote and so will deceased people.

FALSE!  Ballots only go to active registered voters. The question of U.S. citizenship is handled during the voter registration process, which occurs before a ballot can be mailed. Illinois has automated processes to regularly match death records to the voter registration lists to prevent ballots going to a deceased voter. 

MYTH:  Voters move around and don’t update their addresses, leaving ballots floating around that other people can use.  

FALSE!  Vote-by-mail ballots are non-forwardable. And if someone attempts to vote another person’s ballot – again, a felony – they’ll likely fail. (See Myth #4’s answer.) 

Illinois utilizes automated address updates through voter registration procedures and updates from the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) database. Also, Illinois is part of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to share data and ensure proactive address updates among states. Election officials automatically update voter registration information when they move, but then allow them to opt-out - rather than forcing them to “opt-in” to register at their new address. 

MYTH:  If people can’t make an effort and vote in-person, they don’t deserve to vote.

FALSE!  Voting is a right. We get that right with our citizenship. We don’t have to requalify for it by passing a test or paying a poll tax. (Thank you, Supreme Court). Studies also show that voters with a ballot in their hands vote farther “down the ballot,” as they have more time to research and become informed about the issues and candidates on their ballots. And the data shows that higher use of mailed-out ballots helps close the “disabled voter participation gap.” 

MYTH:  Encouraging more convenient voting options such as voting by mail is a plot from the political left. 

FALSE!  Utah, the 4th full Vote at Home state, is decidedly “red.” Republicans also dominate Montana and Arizona, where 70% of voters automatically are mailed their ballots as “permanent absentee” voters. Nebraska and North Dakota, also Republican-dominated states, have also expanded the use of vote at home options. While Oregon and Washington, the first two states where VAH initially took hold, are today more “blue than red,” both states have elected Secretaries of State who are Republicans – and are big fans of this system. 

MYTH:  It is so easy to divert ballots.  People will do it and only get a slap on the wrist if caught. 

FALSE!  In Illinois, if you intentionally tamper with or divert a mailed-out ballot, it is a Class 3 felony, punishable by a $25,000 fine and up to 5 years in jail FOR EVERY BALLOT. Stiff penalties make the risk/reward equation of someone thinking about election interference unthinkable.