How Voting by Mail Could Impact the Outcome of the...

How Voting by Mail Could Impact the Outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election

Mail-in and absentee ballots have become an increasingly popular method of voting in the United States since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, providing voters an easy, accessible way to vote from the safety of their residences.

How will this voting method impact the outcome of the 2020 presidential election? And what stake does each party have in the failure or success of mail-in voting?

A poll taken by The Wall Street Journal found that “some 47 percent of voters who back Mr. Biden, the former vice president, plan to vote by mail rather than in person, compared with 11 percent of Trump supporters.”

The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll taken by Ipsos in late August found that 95 percent of voters who say they’re voting for Trump are confident that if they cast their ballot in person on Election Day, it will be counted accurately. Only 45 percent are confident the same outcome will occur when voting by mail. “Sixty-five percent of those definitely voting for Trump predict that fraudulent attempts to vote will happen very or somewhat often,” said Washington Post writer Amber Phillips.

If the margin of Republican and Democratic votes is close enough in swing states, it could alter the outcome of the election in the coming weeks.

This drastically wide margin between each party’s use of mail-in and absentee ballots could have a substantial effect on the outcome of the upcoming election. According to NPR reporter Miles Parks, with many people voting by mail for the first time ever this fall, there are expected to be many disqualified or rejected ballots due to clerical errors by the voter, and in the primaries alone, there were 550,000 rejected mail ballots.

“For mail-in ballots in Illinois, you must sign the [ballot] envelope, and then elected officials will match your signature to the one they have on file,” said Katrina Phidd, a communication associate at Chicago Votes. Chicago Votes is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to passing voting rights legislation to make voting easier for young people.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), to ensure no discrepancies or fraudulent ballots are being sent in by voters, the state of Illinois matches the signatures of the voter to one they have on file. Then, if the signature doesn’t match, the voter would be notified of the rejected ballot by mail and given 14 days after the election to resolve the issue with their county election authority.

This process is not always ideal as mismatched signatures are the number one reason that mail ballots are disqualified. New York Times writers Larry Buchanan and Alicia Parlapiano reported that “1.4 percent of mail ballots were rejected in 2018, with 67,000 thrown out for signature mismatch. While some states rely on a witness, photo ID, or other information to verify voters, more than half conduct signature matching. Some compare ballot signatures with dozens of historical ones on file, while others compare only with the signature on the voter’s ballot application or from a low-resolution image captured on a D.M.V. signature pad.”

There are also other safeguards in place if authorities suspect voter fraud, such as having a witness and notarized signature proving the legitimacy of your absentee ballot. Phidd said that Chicago Votes is educating voters on how to mail in their ballots.

“Chicago Votes is putting out videos and reminders telling voters to make sure you sign the back of your envelope,” she said. “You also should be getting an email when you cast your ballot when it is received by the election authority and when it is counted.”


In the state of Illinois, all registered voters are being sent a mail-in ballot for the 2020 election along with multiple other states in the Midwest. To vote by mail, “your ballot must be postmarked by Election Day, November 3, and received within 14 days of that date to be counted in the election,” said Mindy Ruckman, Government Affairs Legislative Analyst at Illinois Policy. If you have not received a mail ballot, you had until October 29 to request a ballot from your election authority — and at this point, it would be best to vote in person.

“Your ballots have to be postmarked by Election Day, but you still have until November 17 for it to get to the election authority to be counted,” Phidd said.

Where can you drop off your mail-in ballot for the upcoming election? Cook County has a map of every drop box location in and around Chicago. Ballots can also be returned using USPS.


In other election years, voters tune in eagerly at the end of the day in anticipation of results. But will the 2020 presidential election be decided on Election Day? Probably not, due to mail-in ballots.

With an influx of mail-in ballots for this upcoming election, the results of who won the presidency will most likely not be determined on November 3 as many absentee ballots will be counted after Election Day. According to The Guardian, a few swing states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota are accepting ballots 3 days to 2 weeks after Election Day to be counted. If the margin of Republican and Democratic votes is close enough in these swing states, it could alter the outcome of the election in the coming weeks.

Many states have changed the rules regarding when voter ballots must be postmarked and sent into election offices for this election due to the coronavirus. According to a survey of states’ vote by mail policies conducted by The New York Times, 28 states will not be counting postmarked ballots that arrive after Election Day, which could also change with pending litigation in Pennsylvania and North Carolina regarding mail-in ballot deadlines. About half of the state’s officials could not verify they would have an unofficial count of votes ready to be released on election night.

In the state of Illinois, mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day to be counted and voters had until October 29 to request an absentee ballot if they have not yet received one. In Illinois, provisional ballots, which are given to a voter if they vote in the wrong precinct or fail to bring in their mail-in ballot, are not opened until long after Election Day.  The final, official voting count in each state typically takes days to weeks following Election Day, but this year, due to the influx of mail-in ballots, this process could take longer than usual.

This fall, ballots counted after Election Day will keep America waiting for the results of who will be the next president of the United States.

Unsure of how to register to vote or how to cast your ballot in Illinois? Worried about accessibility or mistakes that could cause your ballot to be rejected? Read more about everything you need to know about voting this election in 14 East’s Voting Guide, available in English and Spanish.


Header image by Bridget Killian.