Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, mail-in voting has increased drastically in the 2020 election. Of the almost 100 million votes cast before Election Day, nearly 64 million of those were mail-in ballots. Though states have different rules and methods for mail-in ballots, voters across the country encountered a new question this election: “How do I know my vote was counted?”
As this uncertainty around election outcomes swirls — an October survey from Public Religion Research Institute showed that one-third of those surveyed reported no confidence at all that the election will be conducted fairly and accurately — state officials, local political parties, and volunteers have stepped in.
Heather Bixler and her mother, Robbin, are serving as “voter protection volunteers” with the North Carolina Democratic Party. In North Carolina, an absentee voter must have a witness sign their ballot. If they mess up, voters can “cure” their invalid ballots by submitting an affidavit confirming their vote or by casting a new ballot. Heather and Robbin were trained in the process of ballot curing and given a list of voters whose ballots were invalidated or pending.
“[We] were given a list and we just marched out there and went door-to-door,” Heather Bixler* said. They tell voters (or leave informational leaflets about) what they could do to ensure their vote was counted.
“Curing ballots feels like the Christian thing to do, to help people exercise their voice,” Heather Bixler said. “In a time where [people] feel totally disenfranchised, beaten down, excluded and marginalized by our current government, this is the least I can do to help those on the margins in particular have their voices heard.”
In September, FiveThirtyEight found that Black voters in North Carolina were having their mail-in ballots rejected at more than four times the rate of white voters. While ballot tracking systems are in place in most states so that notified when their ballots are rejected, volunteers like the Bixlers find it important to inform voters face to face.
In 44 states and the District of Columbia voters can check their ballot status online. The other six states either offer online ballot tracking only for military and overseas voters (Texas and New York) or do not offer tracking at the state level (Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, and Wyoming). In some places voters can sign up for text updates on their ballot status.
These sort of text updates were pioneered in Denver, where former director of elections Amber McReynolds instituted Ballot TRACE. When implemented, Denver saw a 72 percent decrease in voter calls about ballot issues, according to McReynolds. She is now the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, which works with election officials to expand vote-at-home systems and makes recommendations for election policy.
While President Donald Trump has repeatedly — and without evidence — called the legitimacy of mail-in ballots into question, experts say the mail-in process is safe. As part of their campaign, the Institute released a FAQ relating to mail-in ballot security, which explained they “reject the idea that voter fraud is a problem on a large, medium or even small scale.”
“On the whole, voter fraud anywhere is exceedingly rare,” the document reads.
*Editor’s note: Heather Bixler’s husband, Dave Allen, is a previous Sojourners intern and individual giving associate. He did not participate in this story.