The U.S. midterm elections are approaching, with voters submitting their ballots before or on Nov. 8.
Here at VERIFY, our mission is to stop the spread of misinformation, which includes answering common questions surrounding the voting process.
This reporting is part of a series of stories ahead of the midterm elections. If you have any questions about the elections, email us at email@example.com or message us on social media @verifythis.
Are absentee ballots only counted in close races?
No, absentee and mail-in ballots aren’t only counted in close races. They are counted regardless of the outcome of the race.
WHAT WE FOUND
An absentee or mail-in ballot is a ballot completed and typically mailed in advance of an election by a voter who is unable to be present at the polls. According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), all ballots are counted in the final totals for every election — and every vote (absentee or in-person) counts the same.
States have varying rules about who can receive and submit a ballot by mail. In 15 states, you have to apply ahead of each election for a ballot and have an approved excuse, like being over the age of 65 or being out of the country during an election. In other states, like Arizona, you can always request a mail-in ballot, no excuse necessary. And in Washington and Oregon, there is only mail-in voting. All registered voters receive a ballot in the mail and can return them via the postal service or a drop box.
According to vote.org, a group devoted to voter education, “it is a common misconception that absentee ballots are only counted during very tight races.”
The misconception stems from two things:
- Counting of absentee ballots often continues in the days after Election Day
- Absentee ballots make up a small percentage total ballots
“Many elections have a clear winner, so the absentee ballots that are still being counted after election night don't affect the results as predicted right after the polls close. As absentee voting becomes more popular, however, an increasing number of elections are decided by absentee ballots,” Vote.org says.
Before absentee ballots, or any mail-in ballot, can be counted they must be processed, which in many states means the signature must be verified on the return envelope, The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says.
Each state sets their own rules for when processing and counting votes can begin. According to the NCSL, 16 states and Washington, D.C., do not allow counting to begin until the polls close. Twenty-three states allow counting to begin on Election Day, but before the polls close. Ten states allow both processing and counting to begin before Election Day.