Election Officials Expect Surge in Vote-By-Mail

Election Officials Expect Surge in Vote-By-MailWhen gathering in groups is unhealthy because of COVID-19, exercising voting rights becomes a challenge. While the virus is active we shouldn’t be standing in long lines with our fellow citizens and touching voting machines handled by people who preceded us in the voting booth. Many states and other jurisdictions have addressed this public health issue by converting their elections to vote-by-mail or expanding an existing program, absentee ballots.

The national health crises is affecting the rules governing how we vote, leaving election officials scrambling as they anticipate an unprecedented number of ballots arriving in the mail. This sudden switch comes at a time when a portion of the workers that normally handle absentee ballots are ill, quarantined, have childcare issues, or are needed at home to care for sick family members. Fewer experienced workers combined with a substantial increase in mail volume could spell disaster for state and county election offices unless they are prepared to automate the processing of incoming ballots.


Changing the Rules

The rules about who can use an absentee ballot vary by state. Voters in 33 states and the District of Columbia can request mail-in ballots for any reason. In other jurisdictions, voters must show up at the polls in person unless they meet certain criteria about mobility, travel, or military service, but that is changing.

Because of social distancing guidelines, several states are re-visiting their rules about vote-by-mail. States aim to allow registered voters with concerns about exposure to the virus to participate in elections by voting at home and dropping their ballots in the mail. Many states that already have liberal absentee ballot rules are running campaigns to encourage voters to request mail-in ballots.

A bill authored by Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota would force states to offer mail-in ballot options if 25 percent of the states in the US declared an infectious disease or natural disaster.

All these changes will put a strain on election offices that rely on volunteers or small staffs to open, verify, and tally election results from absentee ballots.


Ballot Handling Procedures

When voters use mail-in ballots, they mark their choices and insert their ballots into secrecy envelopes. Some secrecy envelopes seal with a “peal and stick” adhesive and others with more traditional glue that voters can be moisten with a sponge. Voters don’t have to lick the envelopes. The secrecy envelopes are then placed inside a postage-paid mailing envelope the voters must sign before mailing or dropping their ballots in a collection box.

At election offices, workers verify the signatures, separate the ballots by precincts, and count the votes. When absentee ballot volumes are low and spread out over many days, these processes can be handled adequately with manual or semi-manual methods. If volumes swell, the workload on peak days will be overwhelming.


Preparations Underway

TriTek has spoken with many jurisdictions that are preparing for how to efficiently process the expected increase in mail-in ballots. This is the time to acquire the equipment needed to read, sort, and verify the mail at high speed. States and counties that are reasonably sure that handling physical ballots is going to be an issue for them in the next election cannot postpone solution acquisition. The process needs to start soon for them to be ready in time.

Reliability matters in equipment selection. No one wants their mail processing machines to break down on election day. Governments must choose solutions that have a track record of accuracy and efficiency. Equipment manufacturer reputations and testimonials from election officials allow lawmakers to be confident about decisions that will increase the number of mail-in ballots their state and local election boards must process to ensure safe and secure elections.

Besides alleviating a health crisis, vote-by-mail has other advantages, including lower election costs. See our blog article Vote by Mail – A Special Flavor of Inbound Mail Processing.

Tritek Correct Elect systems draw upon our company’s extensive experience in handling incoming mail. Available in three varieties, Correct Elect reads all styles of machine-printed and hand-addressed mail ballots at rates up to 15,000 ballots per hour. Tritek’s field proven technology processes ballot signatures against signatures of record for automatic or manual signature verification. Our systems process the addresses, signatures and barcodes while printing the time and date on each ballot. We archive the data in color, gray-scale or black and white. After capturing data and verifying the signatures, Correct Elect systems sort the ballots to the proper precincts.

Correct Elect has been running reliably in several states for many years, including Washington, which has conducted all elections primarily by mail since 2005. To learn more about Correct Elect, contact Tritek Technologies.


Related Vote By Mail Resources:

Previous ArticleWhy Mail Centers Avoid Dealing With Returned Mail Next ArticleSpeaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, Says On MSNBC