Voting absentee or by mail? How to track your ballot from start to finish

If you’re like most Americans, you’re seriously considering voting by absentee ballot...

...instead of at the polling place in this year's primary and mid-term elections, if you haven’t already done so. Absentee voting, whether you live stateside or are one of the millions of overseas voters, offers you the convenience of selecting candidates for office at the time of your choosing: after work, around the table with your family, or from your couch.

No need to wait in line, and no time limits (as you might experience on Election Day or during early voting) as long as you mail in or place your voted ballot in a drop box by the deadline. Every state now offers absentee voting, with the majority permitting you to vote absentee without an excuse as to why you can’t physically make it to the polls.

Once you’ve decided to vote absentee, here's how to track your ballot every step of the way.

Step One: Apply for Your Absentee or Vote at Home Ballot

    • You'll have to submit your absentee ballot application unless you live in one of eight states that automatically mail you a ballot (using vote by mail).
    • Of course, before you apply for a ballot, make sure you are registered to vote.
    • Some states permit you to request the ballot online; others require you to submit a written request by mail or contact your local election official for an absentee ballot.
    • Find out your state’s regulations on absentee voting, and request your ballot early enough to send it back in the provided return envelope by the deadline, which is usually with a postmark by Election Day.
    • Pay attention to any requirements for a notary or witness signature. If you need to make address or political party changes ahead of time, take care of that too.
    • In some instances, you may walk into your local election office to submit, in-person, a request for an absentee ballot. If you take that route, you can just vote your ballot and submit it, right then and there, to your local election official. Some states also permit family members or other caregivers to pick up and return completed ballots.

Track Your Absentee Ballot

Step Two: Track Your Ballot's Progress

    • Most voters will either receive their mail ballot automatically – eight states send them to all registered voters without requiring specific requests – or will have to request that it be sent to them by mail.
      • Once you put in that request, you can start tracking the status of your ballot.
      • Usually, you’ll go to your local election official’s site and find a “track my ballot” link.
      • Just enter your voter information, usually your name, birth date, and address or zip code.   
    • There are only two states, Mississippi and Wyoming, that don’t have state-wide ballot tracking. The remaining forty-eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, permit voters to track their ballot's progress: when the absentee ballot request is received, when the ballot is mailed to their home, and when the completed ballot is received by election officials.
    • Importantly, local election officials will often notify a voter, by text, email, or call, if there is a problem with processing the ballot due to, say, a signature omission or mismatch.
      • So make sure you’re contact information is on your envelope!
      • It all depends on which ballot-tracking system your state uses.  See below.
      • Be on the lookout for any such notification from the tracking system of your election official.
      • If you’re in doubt as to whether the text or email is legitimate – given the current flood of election disinformation tactics – then just call or email your local office to find out.
      • The earlier you do this, the quicker you can resolve any outstanding issues.


Step Three: Check to see if your ballot was counted 

    • Once you've received your absentee ballot in the mail, completed it in the comfort of your home, and mailed it in or submitted it to your local election official, you can check the ballot tracker again to see that it was received and counted.
    • In some states, you can also check if a ballot returned to a drop-box was counted. This tracking option provides peace of mind and is a wonderful way to see the integrity and safety of our election system in action.
    • If you voted using a provisional ballot, under the Help America Vote Act all states and the District of Columbia must provide some tracking system – usually a website or a phone number – so that voters can find out if their provisional ballot (which is provided to voters whose names aren’t found on registers at the polls and thus can’t be confirmed as eligible voters) was counted after Election Day.


How does tracking work?

Counties place bar codes on ballot envelopes that can be tracked by the U.S. Postal Service.  USPS scans the code and then sends the ballot’s status to either the state/local election official or the voter directly. It all depends on which technology a state uses, given that several different companies (BallotTrax and Ballot Scout, for example) provide ballot tracking services.  


Is the technology secure?

Yes! The votes themselves aren’t transmitted through these trackers, just their movements from point A to point B.  And watching the process can maintain voters’ faith in the electoral process, precisely because they get to see the ballot’s movement in real-time.  Indeed, significant majorities of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats all reported that signing up for such notifications enhanced their confidence in the electoral process.

So, first, follow your secretary of state’s rules on voter registration! And then submit your absentee application to your board of elections, if you haven’t already! Mail in your completed ballot, and keep on tracking!