So you mailed your ballot. Now what?

Absentee ballots have been just as controversial as they have been necessary in this election cycle.

With COVID-19 cases spiking across the country, some voters have chosen to vote by mail. This socially-distanced voting method has been criticized by the Trump administration on the grounds that mail-in ballots increase the opportunity for voter fraud on the largest scale this country has ever seen. Others have wondered how voting absentee might prolong the election, or whether their vote will even count. 

Could absentee ballots lead to more voter fraud?

Americans have voted by mail for over a hundred years. The practice started in the Civil War so that military personnel could vote even while they were fighting elsewhere. This method continues to the present day. In the 2016 election, about one in four people voted by mail, and less than a hundredth of a percent were determined to be fraudulent. In the state of Alabama, absentee voters must have their ballot notarized or have two witnesses sign it.

Not every state conducts the submission of their absentee ballots this way, but it is still extremely hard to submit a fraudulent ballot. The person would have to have the voter’s address, Social Security number and other personal information to submit the ballot. Even if the fraudulent voter were to have all of this information, they would still have to replicate the signature of the person they are trying to imitate to match the signature that the state has on file.

Will votes be counted?

Because mail-in voting is a new method for many Americans, it’s likely that some will incorrectly fill out their ballots and will not be counted on Election Day. 

Richard Fording, a political science professor from the University of Alabama, projected that there will be a “non-trivial amount of votes that are not counted due to filling voters filling out their ballots incorrectly.” 

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If you do end up filling out your ballot incorrectly, you will not be able to resubmit it and it will not be counted in the election. But as long as you read the directions on your ballot, your vote will count. 

Does mail-in voting benefit one party over another?

In the past there has been no statistical research that states that one party benefits from mail-in voting. But with this election, there might be a slight advantage to the Democratic Party as more Republicans will want to vote in-person instead of by mail. The number of ballots cast in early voting is already more than half of the votes that were cast in the entire 2016 general election. There have been twice the number of early votes in 2020 as there were at this point in the 2016 election. 

This metric shows that many people are taking advantage of more accessible forms of voting provided by the government, which could lead to shorter lines on Election Day.

When will we see the results?

The short answer: You’ll have to wait a few days.

There is no set time for the announcement of a winner, as states have different rules when it comes to counting their mail-in ballots. Some states can start counting their ballots at the beginning of the day on Election Day, and others can only start counting their ballots once the polls have closed. 

Joseph Smith, an associate professor of political science, said mail-in options help spread out “the burden of counting votes over a longer period of time, but doesn’t necessarily increase the number of votes [the states] need to count.”  

This means that election coverage could look very different this year. Most of the results from the states come from exit polls, where pollsters ask people coming out of the polls who they voted for. 

At the University of Alabama, students have already recorded more than 1,725 absentee ballots cast from August 1 to October 28 through the campus mail.