Many popular vote-by-mail and absentee systems are ripe for fraud and abuse, and may have been used to steal elections.

Americans are grateful for anything that makes voting easier. Proposals for vote-by-mail (VBM) systems are on the rise around the country. But, as with any voting system, the convenience of VBM can seriously undermine integrity.

The use of absentee ballots and other forms of voting by mail has more than tripled since 1980. In the 2012 presidential election, 21.4 percent of domestic voters cast ballots by mail. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have switched to all vote-by-mail systems, and several other states have seen mail ballot rates exceed 50 percent.

Voting by mail is necessary for some, particularly overseas service members and the disabled. But should all of us do it?

Lack of transparency, lack of security, opportunities for voter intimidation, and high levels of ballot mishandling are some of the reasons to limit these voting systems to serve only those who absolutely require them. Read below to learn more.

First Lady Michelle Obama sends her absentee ballot to Chicago from the White House. CREDIT: Jocelyn Augustino for Obama for America.

Votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show.
— New York Times

Broken Chain of Custody

Vote by mail presents a serious and so-far unsolved problem: a broken chain of custody of the ballots. That means the ballots are moved without consistent public oversight, offering opportunities for fraud and mismanagement.

According to the 2012 Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project report:

Having tens of millions of ballots being transmitted and marked without strict chain-of-custody procedures creates risks that simply do not exist with any form of in-person voting, whether on Election Day or in early-voting settings.

Almost 2 percent of mailed ballots are rejected, double the rate for in-person voting. CREDIT: Sarah Beth Glicksteen, New York Times.

Millions of Votes Lost OR STOLEN

According to a study by Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the 2008 presidential election voting by mail had an overall failure rate of as much as 21 percent:

  • 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted.
  • 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them.
  • Another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials.
  • Election officials rejected 800,000 ballots.

insider fraud and VOTE BY mail

Reports of absentee ballot fraud have piled up in every election. In 2000, the New York Times reported extensively on how Republicans used partisan absentee manipulation to help swing the election to George W. Bush in Florida.

A 2005 report the Commission on Federal Election Reform also concluded, “Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”

However, studies have proven that few actual voters are engaged in any kind of fraud at a level that could swing an election. Instead, election insiders constitute the greater threat. 

The right-wing Heritage Foundation compiled a recent report on election fraud conviction cases, attempting to prove allegations of widespread minority "voter fraud" in order to bolster its promotion of voter ID laws.

Ironically, while the report found a scattering of such fraud, it also listed far more serious crimes by elections insiders utilizing absentee ballots to rig elections.

There have been examples of fraud, including fraud perpetrated through the use of absentee ballots severe enough to force new elections at the state level.
— Washington Post

Presidential Commission on Election Administration Recommends Reform

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration made a series of recommendations to improve vote-by-mail systems, writing:

To unlock the significant potential benefits of voting by mail and meet public demand, policymakers must provide voters nationwide with processes that are more transparent, accessible, and accurate.
Pockets of poor administration damage the integrity of elections, from local to presidential. And problems with voting by mail disproportionately impact those who cannot make it to the polls because of age, limited mobility, illness, or academic studies out-of-town, marginalizing large segments of the population due to their dependence on voting by mail.


The right to have one’s vote counted is as important as the act of voting itself.
— Justice Paul H. Anderson, Minnesota Supreme Court

High Ballot Rejection Rates

Vote-by-mail systems have higher rates of ballot rejection than in-person voting.

In 2014, a lawsuit was filed by Oregon supporters of Proposition 92, which would have mandated the labeling of genetically modified foods. It lost by 812 votes and the race went to an automatic recount.

A lawsuit sought to have thousands of ballots rejected before the results were certified, claiming about 13,000 voters (out of 1.5 million statewide) had submitted ballots with signatures that did not match their voter registration cards. 

  • Some voters never received notification their signatures did not match.
  • For some voters with disabilities, their signatures had changed or they had used stamps for their signatures.
  • The secretary of state’s office did not confirm that counties consistently applied the instructions for signature verification.
  • The instructions provided to voters did not state that the signatures had to match in order for the ballots to be counted.

The suit was rejected by the court.