Electronic Ballot Return

8/15/2022

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Thirty-one states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands allow certain voters—typically military or overseas voters, or voters with disabilities—to return voted absentee/mail ballots electronically, via fax (which can be sent over the phone or the internet), email or online portal. More states allow certain voters to receive blank absentee/mail ballots electronically, and then print that ballot to return it by mail or in person. No state, however, has plans now or in the near future to conduct elections entirely via the internet.

Background

Electronic Delivery of Blank Ballots: The federal Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (MOVE), passed in 2009, requires states to electronically provide blank absentee ballots to voters who fall under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). These voters—often known as UOCAVA voters—must be provided blank ballots in at least one electronic format—email, fax or an online delivery system—at least 45 days before an election. Details on which electronic delivery formats states make available to voters can be found on the Federal Voting Assistance Program's Voting Assistance Guide. UOCAVA voters from any state can also vote by using an online Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot offered by the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The “FWAB” is intended as a back-up ballot for voters who do not receive a ballot from their state. It can be marked electronically using FVAP's online ballot marking tool, then printed, signed and returned to the appropriate stateside local election office.

Electronic Return of Voted Absentee Ballots: The MOVE Act does not require states to  accept voted ballots electronically. Returning ballots by mail continues to be the default option, and in 19 states it is the only option.

Eligible Voters

UOCAVA Voters: Returning ballots electronically is most often reserved for UOCAVA voters. These voters can face unique challenges in receiving and returning absentee/mail ballots by state deadlines. Imagine, for instances, the difficulty of returning a voted absentee/mail ballot from a remote military base overseas. Over half of the states offer electronic ballot return options to UOCAVA voters, and many provide more than one option.  

  • Thirty-one states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands allow UOCAVA voters to return a voted absentee/mail ballot by fax.
  • Twenty-six states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands allow UOCAVA voters to return a voted absentee/mail ballot by email.
  • Seven states allow UOCAVA voters to return a voted absentee/mail ballot through an online portal.
  • See details in the table below.

Voters with Disabilities: Thirteen states have extended electronic ballot return options to voters with disabilities, who may face unique challenges in voting in person or by mail.

  • Eleven states allow voters with disabilities to return a voted absentee/mail ballot by fax.
  • Nine states allow voters with disabilities to return a voted absentee/mail ballot by email.
  • Four states allow voters with disabilities to return a voted absentee/mail ballot through an online portal.
  • See details in the table below.

Others: A few states allow electronic ballot return in other limited circumstances, such as during certain emergencies or natural disasters (Colorado) or for qualified first responders (Utah). In Louisiana, all absentee voters have the option of returning a voted absentee ballot by fax (note that in Louisiana, voters must provide a qualifying excuse to vote an absentee ballot).

Table: Electronic Return of Voted Absentee Ballots

State

Email

Fax*

Online Portal**

Who Can Use Electronic Return

Alabama

Ala. Code1975 § 17-11-45

 

 

UOCAVA voters

Alaska

AS § 15.20.066

 

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

 

Note: Alaska previously had a web portal available for any voter to return a voted absentee/mail ballot but discontinued this option in 2018.

Arizona

A.R.S. § 16-543

 ●

UOCAVA voters

California

West's Ann.Cal.Elec.Code § 3106

 

 

UOCAVA voters, only if overseas or activated within six days of the election

Colorado

C.R.S.A. § 1-5-706, § 1-7.5-115, § 1-8.3-113, 8 CCR 1505-1:16

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

Note: In some instances, Colorado allows voters experiencing a personal emergency or natural disaster to use electronic ballot return.

Delaware

15 Del.C. § 5525, § 5503

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

District of Columbia

 

UOCAVA voters

Florida

West's F.S.A. § 101.697

 

 

UOCAVA voters, if living outside the U.S.

Hawaii

HRS § 15-5

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

Note: In some instances, voters who request an absentee/mail ballot and do not receive it within five days of an election may return a ballot electronically.

Indiana

IC 3-11-4-6

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

Iowa

N/A

 

UOCAVA voters, only if located in a hostile fire area or overseas as a uniformed service member

Kansas

K.S.A. 25-1216

 

UOCAVA voters

Louisiana

LSA-R.S. 18:1308(A)(h)(i)

 ●

UOCAVA voters only, and only in specific circumstances during a declared emergency

 

UOCAVA voters

Absentee voters, including voters with disabilities, only if the request is made at the time of application

Maine

21-A M.R.S.A. § 783, § 809-A

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

Massachusetts

M.G.L.A. 54 § 95

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

Mississippi

Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-699

 

UOCAVA voters

Missouri

V.A.M.S. 115.916

 

UOCAVA voters, only if serving or living in a hostile fire area

Montana

MCA 13-21-106

 

UOCAVA voters

Nebraska

N/A

 

UOCAVA voters, only with prior approval

Nevada

N.R.S. 293D.200, 293.269951

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

New Jersey

N.J.S.A. 19:59-10

 

UOCAVA voters, who must also send a hard copy of the ballot via postal mail

New Mexico

N. M. S. A. 1978, § 1-6B-8

 

UOCAVA voters

North Carolina

N.C.G.S.A. § 163-258.10

UOCAVA voters only

UOCAVA voters only

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

North Dakota

NDCC, 16.1-07-24

 ●

UOCAVA voters

Oklahoma

26 Ok.St.Ann. § 14-145

 

 

UOCAVA voters

Oregon

O.R.S. § 253.690

 

UOCAVA voters

Rhode Island

Gen.Laws1956, § 17-20-6.1, 17-20-9

Only if the ballot was requested via fax

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

South Carolina

Code 1976 § 7-15-690

 

UOCAVA voters

Texas

Election Advisory No. 2022-03

 

 

UOCAVA voters, only if serving or living in a hostile fire area

Utah

U.C.A. 1953 § 20A-16-404, § 20A-3a-201, § 20A-6-103

 

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

 

Note: Utah County is piloting the use of a smartphone app for voters with disabilities to cast their ballots

Virgin Islands

18 V.I.C. § 665

 

UOCAVA voters

 

Washington

West's RCWA 29A.40.091

 

UOCAVA voters

West Virginia

W. Va. Code, § 3-3-1(c), § 3-3-5

UOCAVA voters only

UOCAVA voters only

UOCAVA voters

Voters with disabilities

Qualified first responders

 

Note: In 2018, West Virginia began offering a mobile voting option for eligible UOCAVA voters, the first of its kind in the nation. The option was paused in 2020 due to security concerns. In 2020, the state launched an online portal for UOCAVA voters and voters with disabilities to cast their ballots.

*Faxes can be sent by phone or via the internet.

**Some online portals allow voters to receive, mark and return their ballots entirely online, while others may require the voter to print the ballot, mark it, scan it and upload it back into the system as a PDF.

Security and Other Considerations for Adopting Electronic Ballot Return

Electronic ballot return allows eligible voters to cast their ballots quickly and easily, and to meet absentee/mail ballot deadlines more conveniently. The benefits of timeliness and convenience, however, must be balanced by other considerations—especially security and privacy.

  • Privacy: Because election officials can identify the person who returned a ballot electronically, such ballots cannot be fully anonymous. Privacy of the ballot is a value for voters and for democracy.
  • Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity experts have raised concerns that transmitting voted ballots over the internet is vulnerable to cyberattacks, such as hacking that could change a person’s votes or denial of service attacks that could prevent voted ballots from getting through. The security of the voter's computer is also a concern.
  • Voter coercion: The possibility that a voter could be coerced into voting a certain way is a consideration for electronic ballot return, as well as for traditional absentee/mail voting.
  • Auditability: Electronic ballot return does not provide a paper record. Without a paper record, a cyberattack may be undetectable.
  • Authentication: Election officials must determine how to verify the identity of the voter. Alaska, for example, requires that an electronically returned ballot be accompanied by two authentication documents that must be printed and signed by the voter and a witness.
  • Inconvenience for the local election official: For the electronically returned ballot to be tabulated, each one must be duplicated—typically by a bipartisan team—which creates an additional work burden on the local election office.

Additional Resources