Is voting by mail secure, and how can I know my mail-in vote is counted?

March 2024 3 min read by The CEIR Team

vote by mail

There is a common misconception that the only way to know for sure that your vote is securely received and counted is to walk into a polling place and cast an in-person ballot. Not true: Voting by mail is not only safe and secure, it’s an integral component of keeping our elections secure and accessible. And it already has a long history of success.

Voting by mail was an option first extended to Union soldiers on active duty in the Civil War. Its utility for the military soon extended to Americans living or traveling overseas at the time of an election, the elderly, sick, or disabled, students attending college in another state, and anyone else whose circumstances make voting in person untenable.

Still, there is a widespread suspicion that voting by mail necessarily makes an election less secure and less accurate. This was one element of the baseless claims of election fraud circulated prior to the 2020 election by President Donald Trump and others, including Russian disinformation agents. In September 2020, the US Department of Homeland Security issued an intelligence bulletin noting that “Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process.”

The false claims found an audience anyway, as Republican lawmakers initiated a push to limit access to voting by mail. But as the pandemic raged, public support was high for voting by mail, and an estimated 65 million voters used a mail-in ballot to vote in 2020. By 2022, forty-six states and Washington, D.C. offered all voters the opportunity to vote early in person; of these, including 35 states and D.C. offering the option without requiring an excuse.

This is good news for the democratic process. Expanded voting options enhance election integrity by spreading voting out over several days rather than concentrating it on a single day. Put simply, a longer voting period bolsters efforts to quickly detect and mitigate technical glitches, fraud, cyberattacks, and other potential threats.

An array of security measures safeguards the security of voting by mail:

  • Many jurisdictions allow voters to track their mailed ballot to see when it has been received and accepted. This is the best way to know your individual vote has been counted. But a received ballot confirms that the vote has entered the secure chain of custody, and all other jurisdictions can use USPS standard tracking to confirm receipt.
  • Before a mail-in ballot is counted, election officials verify it by checking information on the ballot envelope against what they have on file to ensure they match. Some states use barcodes to track ballots and prevent duplicate votes.
  • Once received, mail-in ballots are kept in a secure location until they are counted, then returned to secure storage afterward.
  • Most jurisdictions allow members of the public and designated observers to watch the ballot counting process, including mail-in ballots, which ensures transparency.
  • Post-election audits can confirm whether the results of an election accurately reflect the intentions of the voters.
  • Jurisdictions have strict chain-of-custody procedures to ensure that ballots are always accounted for and handled appropriately.
  • Most states use some form of tamper-evident envelope for mail-in ballots.

Finally, there is the evidence of history. Numerous studies and audits have confirmed that mail-in voting fraud is extremely rare. The instances of fraud that do occur are often isolated and quickly addressed, and legal penalties are severe, including jail time.

The success of early in-person and mail voting was on full display during the 2020 general election. Amid an ongoing global pandemic and record turnout, more than 69% of voters nationwide cast their ballot before Election Day—up from about 40% of voters just four years earlier. And ongoing scrutiny, audits, and analysis by actors across the political spectrum have repeatedly upheld the 2020 general election as the most secure in American history.


Sign up for our newsletter so you never miss an update on the state of US elections!

Back to Latest Updates