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Mail-in ballots and absentee ballots are essentially the same, both verifiable

August 5, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Mail-in ballots are not the same thing as absentee ballots. One can be verified and the other cannot.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. All ballots have a series of built-in checks to verify voter identity and prevent fraud. Some states mail ballots to every registered voter, while other states only mail ballots to voters who request them. But the ballots are subject to that state’s verification requirements in either case.

THE FACTS: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some politicians have tried to paint a picture of two diverging systems: absentee voting, or requesting a ballot when you can’t vote in person, and mail-in voting, in which states send a ballot to every registered voter. 


President Donald Trump and others have claimed without evidence that mail-in voting leads to fraudulent and inaccurate results, while absentee voting is perfectly safe.

A post viewed more than 48,000 times on Facebook on Wednesday continued in that line of argument, falsely suggesting mail-in ballots cannot be verified, while absentee ballots can.

“Mail in ballots are not the same thing as absentee ballots,” the post read. “One can be verified. The other can not. Stop the insanity.”

In reality, any ballot mailed to your local election office — whether a voter requested it or not — goes through your state’s uniform vetting process.

In either case, only people with current voter registrations can receive a ballot by mail. Each voter can only vote once. Voters must fill out the ballot, sign the envelope, then mail it or drop it off at a designated location by a certain deadline. 

Different states have different protocols for how to verify mail-in or absentee ballots that are sent to election offices. While some states only require a signature on the envelope, other states have additional precautions, such as comparing that signature to a signature on file, requiring a witness signature or requiring a notarized signature. 

Whether your vote is technically submitted absentee or through an all-mail election system does not change those protocols. 

This election year, the coronavirus pandemic led some states to expand mail-in voting in their primary elections by sending ballots directly to voters, rather than require voters to request an absentee ballot as traditionally required.


Critics have pointed out anecdotal reports of ballots being lost in the mail, sent to deceased relatives or sent to the wrong address, but those reports are not evidence that actual fraud occurred.

Claims that mail-in voting has caused widespread voter fraud in the past are unsubstantiated, according to reporting by The Associated Press.

Though Trump has criticized states that are looking to expand mail-in voting by sending ballots to all registered voters, his campaign acknowledged that absentee ballots and mail-in ballots generally refer to the same thing in a lawsuit filed recently against the state of Pennsylvania. 

The terms are generally used “interchangeably to discuss the use of the United States Postal Service to deliver ballots to and from electors,” the lawsuit reads.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: