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Elections Defined: The Purpose of Pre-Processing Ballots

Each state has its own law on when processing can begin.

By Wendy Underhill  |  June 20, 2024

Elections Defined Video Series

This series of short videos features NCSL Director of Elections and Redistricting Wendy Underhill talking about some of the key steps of election administration you may not have heard of—from ballot curing to voter list maintenance to what it means to be a poll worker, and everything in between. View the complete series. 

Approximately one-third of the nation’s voters use absentee or mail ballots, and that percentage is growing. These ballots are returned in official envelopes with identifying information on the outside—information that election officials use to verify that the ballot was sent in by the correct voter.

It takes time to verify the identity of the voter, open the envelope, remove the ballot and even flatten the ballot so it can go into the tabulation machine. Election professionals call these steps pre-processing ballots.

Each state has its own law on when processing can begin. Most states, and especially those with a high volume of absentee voting, allow pre-processing to begin before Election Day. Other states wait until all the ballots are in on Election Day to start processing absentee ballots. This is one reason why some states have slower results reporting than others.

Whether these steps take place before or after Election Day doesn’t affect the outcomes. Either way, a vote is a vote.

Ready for more election administration answers? View the complete series for info on the topics below. Still have questions? More details can be found on these and other topics through NCSL’s election resources.

  • Ballot Duplication.
  • Ballot Collecting.
  • Ballot Curing. 
  • Provisional Ballots.
  • Pre-Processing Ballots.
  • Poll workers vs. Poll Watchers.
  • Post-election Audits.
  • Canvassing and Certification.
  • Results Reporting.
  • Voter ID.
  • Voter Registration List Maintenance.
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