Introduction

The American public can rely on the United States Postal Service to fulfill our role in the electoral process. We provide a secure, efficient and effective way for citizens to participate when policymakers decide to use mail as part of their elections. We have a robust and tested process for proper handling and timely delivery of Election Mail. Due to COVID-19, there’s been an increase in the number of jurisdictions expanding or initiating mail-in voting options. Our national education effort keeps local and state election officials informed about mailing procedures and our operational standards. We’re also educating the public about how to successfully use the mail.

What is Election Mail?

It’s any item mailed to or from authorized election officials that enables citizens to participate in the voting process — including ballots, voter registration cards, absentee voting applications and polling place notifications. Election Mail should not be confused with Political Mail, which is any material mailed for campaign purposes by a registered political candidate, campaign committee or committee of a political party, as well as any material mailed by a political action committee or organization engaging in issues advocacy or voter mobilization.

We protect your mail

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The United States Postal Inspection Service is responsible for ensuring the safety of all mail, including Election Mail. To report law enforcement matters relating to Election Mail call a Postal Inspector at 877-876-2455. For general information about the Inspection Service please visit www.USPIS.gov.

Voters

If your state allows mail-in voting and if you choose to request or return your ballot using the mail, we encourage you to explore resources available from your state and local election authorities. They can provide information about processes and policies specific to your state. You can explore USPS guidance and recommendations below on how to successfully use the mail for mail-in voting.

FAQs for voters

If you choose to vote by mail, it’s your responsibility to understand your local jurisdiction’s requirements for timely submission of completed mail-in ballots, including postmarking requirements. You should also be aware of how long it may take for your ballot to travel through the mail. Some state deadlines may not provide enough time for the Postal Service to deliver a mail-in ballot from the election office to the voter and return the marked ballot from the voter to the election office based on the established time it takes to deliver different types of mail — which is called our “delivery standards,” and which have been in place for many years. Failing to follow the Postal Service’s recommendations will increase the risk that your ballot will not be delivered and returned in time to be counted. Contact your local election officials about ballot submission deadlines and other information that will help ensure your vote is counted.

We recommend that domestic, non-military voters mail their completed ballots before Election Day and at least one week prior to your state’s deadline. We also recommend that voters request ballots at the earliest point allowable but no later than 15 days prior to the election date.

Unless your state or local election officials provide you with a prepaid return envelope, you must make sure appropriate postage is affixed to your return ballot envelope. To help voters, the Postal Service requires election officials to inform voters of the amount of First-Class postage required to return their ballots. Not only does federal law require proper postage, but it also helps ensure timely processing and delivery by the Postal Service.

You can. Be sure to check collection times posted on collection boxes and at Post Office locations and retail facilities. Also be mindful of when mail is delivered and picked up at your residential mailbox. Ballots deposited after the collection time won’t be picked up, or postmarked, until the following business day. Voters should also be aware of mail collection times and practices if ballots are deposited in an office or residential mailroom.

More media assets for voters

Military and overseas voters

The mail is an important vehicle to enable U.S. military members and citizens who live abroad to vote in elections.

Here’s what you need to know

  • Ballots need extra time and special tags for addresses at Army Post Offices (APOs), Fleet Post Offices (FPOs) and Diplomatic Post Offices (DPOs). Ballots from other international addresses will need extra time as well and need to consider longer international mailing times.
  • Absentee return ballot flyer Uniformed services voters who are overseas with authorized APO/FPO/DPO addresses can return absentee ballots using Priority Mail Express® service with Label 11-DOD, DOD Express Mail Label Absentee Ballot. The label includes “Waiver of Signature” and “Guaranteed by End of Day” endorsements so ballots can be delivered the day they arrive at the destination Post Office facility.
  • Citizens who live abroad should request an absentee ballot at the earliest point allowable.
  • The Military Postal Service distributes labels overseas and covers postage.
  • Label 11-DOD may be used only by absent overseas uniformed services voters, as defined by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, for ballots returned at authorized APO/FPO/DPO locations.
  • The label may be used on any size ballot envelope. It always goes in the upper right corner of the ballot envelope.
  • Voters can keep part of the tracking label to use the tracking number to track their ballot envelopes.

For more information:

Election officials

We work closely with election officials at all levels of government to provide recommendations on mailpiece design, mailing preparation and entry, and delivery timing.

Get the Election Mail kit

Election officials should use First-Class Mail or a higher level of service for Election Mail. Using USPS Marketing Mail® service will result in slower delivery times and may increase the risk that voters will not receive their ballots in time to return them by mail.

State deadlines may not be compatible with the Postal Service’s established delivery standards. Election officials must keep the Postal Service’s mailing timeframes in mind if they choose to use mail as part of the electoral process. Additionally, election officials should take into consideration delivery times for different classes of mail when planning a mailing and follow our recommendations for Election Mail. To ensure that individuals who wish to use the mail to vote can do so successfully, it is critical that election officials take into account the time required for both legs of a ballot’s delivery through the mail — to the voter and back to election officials.

We recommend that jurisdictions advise voters to request ballots at the earliest point allowable but no later than 15 days prior to the election date, and that voters mail their completed ballots before Election Day and at least one week before the due date. Voters should contact their local election officials for information about deadlines.

Envelopes used to send balloting material as well as any envelopes or postcards enclosed for return mail should include certain identification markings approved by the USPS, including the official Election Mail logo and Intelligent Mail® barcode.

USPS® mailpiece design analysts can provide guidance on envelopes that meet postal standards and help election officials construct mailing plans.

For more details, see: Official Election Mail – Graphic Guidelines and Logos

The official Election Mail logo with registered trademark is designed exclusively for use on Election Mail. Tag 191, Domestic and International Ballots, is a green container tag that identifies trays and sacks of ballot mail. The official Election Mail logo and Tag 191 should be used by election officials to help improve the visibility of ballots as they enter and travel through the mailstream.

In 2018, the Postal Service developed customized service type identifiers (STIDs) specifically for ballots to improve ballot mail visibility. These identifiers have proven instrumental in identifying and tracking ballots in the mailstream. In addition, ballot identifiers have increased the visibility of outbound and return Election Mail within the automation environment.

Some state and local election officials have expressed interest in expanding the use of prepaid reply mail so voters don’t have to pay for postage when returning their ballots by mail. The Postal Service has a number of solutions available to assist election officials with prepaid reply mail.

If a prepaid return envelope is not used, appropriate postage must be affixed to the return ballot envelope. To help voters, the Postal Service requires election officials to inform voters of the amount of First-Class postage required to return their ballots. Not only does federal law require proper postage, but it also helps ensure timely processing and delivery by the Postal Service.

See more prepaid reply mail details

Or contact your local Election Mail coordinator.

COVID-19

The Postal Service continues to serve its customers during the COVID-19 pandemic through delivery of not only Election Mail, but also medicine, essential consumer staples, benefit checks and important information. Learn more about how the USPS is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic at about.usps.com/coronavirus.

Keeping you informed

In March 2020, we distributed the comprehensive 2020 Official Election Mail (Kit 600) to 11,500 election officials across the country. In addition, in May 2020, we sent to local and state election officials and state party officials a letter that highlights key aspects of Election Mail preparation and delivery processes — and ways to help educate the public on what to expect when using the mail to vote. Read the press release for more about the letter.

If your jurisdiction is planning election mailings or has general information about Election Mail in your area, please keep us informed by emailing electionmailprogrammanager@usps.gov. If your jurisdiction is experiencing Election Mail service issues, please report them using the form found at www.electionmail.org.

FAQs for election officials

Two common causes of Election Mail issues are improperly designed mailpieces and state laws or other binding directives that don’t provide adequate time for a ballot or other time-sensitive Election Mail to be sent to and returned by voters using the mail. In order to meet deadlines, such laws or other binding directives should be based on the Postal Service’s long-established delivery standards.

Election officials should use First-Class Mail service for Election Mail. Using USPS Marketing Mail service will result in slower delivery times and may increase the risk that voters will not receive their ballots in time to return them by mail. Voters can return their ballots using First-Class Mail or a higher level of service.

Yes, it can be applied to most Election Mail and the Postal Service strongly recommends its use. This barcode is used to sort and track individual pieces of mail and gain greater visibility into the flow of the mail. It allows mailers, in this case, election officials, to participate in multiple USPS programs simultaneously, expand their ability to track individual pieces of mail, and see where ballots are within the mailstream. Refer to the 2020 Election Mail kit for more information.

The Postal Service recommends that voters mail their ballots before Election Day and at least one week prior to their state deadline. It’s also recommended that overseas voters return their ballots using a level of service that, based on the information available, should result in the ballot being received by the applicable state deadline. We strongly advise election officials to factor into their planned mailings the time it will take to both send and receive Election Mail based on the Postal Service’s delivery standards.

Ballots mailed by election officials or voters too close to Election Day are at high risk of not being returned in time to be counted. The Postal Service cannot guarantee a specific delivery date or change its delivery standards to accommodate state laws. Too often, states’ election laws don’t allow sufficient time to both send and return a ballot using the mail given the established USPS delivery standards. States that are able to successfully use the mail as part of their electoral process either have amended these requirements legislatively, or have found workarounds that meet their needs and USPS capabilities. In late July 2020, the Postal Service sent a letter to the chief election officials in every state and the District of Columbia, identifying potential disparities between state election laws and USPS mailing delivery standards.

The Postal Service can use localized continuity of operations plans in case of emergencies to help ensure that the nation’s postal system continues to function for the American people. With a longstanding history of quickly adapting operational plans to changing conditions, the Postal Service maintains steady communications with mailers during natural disasters or other events that require emergency responses. We keep residential customers and business mailers updated on postal facility service disruptions on the USPS Service alerts page.

Election Mail coordinators

The Postal Service can assist local and state election officials with any of their Election Mail needs. Local Election Mail coordinators serve as your primary points of contact to guide you through the process and match USPS services to your needs.

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Mailpiece design analysts

Mailpiece design analysts (MDAs) are specially trained postal employees who can answer questions about mailpiece design, give advice on evaluating pieces of mail for automation discounts, provide technical assistance on envelope standards, and help construct mailing plans. Contact the MDA Customer Service Help Desk at 855-593-6093 or mda@usps.gov to be matched to an analyst in your area.

General inquiries

Seeking additional information? Contact electionmailprogrammanager@usps.gov.