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Election Mail

Introduction

The General Election is Tuesday, November 3, 2020. 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 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, if they choose to do so.

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.

Look for the Official Election Mail logo!

The Official Election Mail logo

The Official Election Mail logo is a unique registered trademark designed exclusively for inclusion in the design of official Election Mail. Election officials are not required to use the logo, but the logo does appear on most Election Mail. When the Official Election Mail logo appears on a mailpiece, voters recognize the mail as important and as distinct from partisan political mailings. Additionally, the logo serves to identify official Election Mail for Postal Service workers and distinguishes it from the millions of other mailpieces that are processed daily.

The Official Election Mail logo should be used on any mailpiece created by an election official that is mailed to or from a citizen of the United States for the purpose of participating in the voting process. This includes balloting materials, voter registration cards, absentee applications, polling place notifications and voter reply mail. The logo should be used on all classes of mail and all processing categories.

We protect your mail

United States Postal Inspection Service badge

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 you choose to vote by mail, we encourage you to explore resources available from your state and local election authorities. They can provide information about processes, rules, deadlines and policies specific to your state. USPS® guidance and recommendations on how to successfully use the mail can be found below.

Learn about voting in your area

Find your state election website

FAQs for domestic, nonmilitary voters

It’s important to understand your local jurisdiction’s rules and requirements for participating in an election. If you are eligible to vote by mail and choose to do so, you should plan ahead to give yourself enough time to complete and return your ballot by your state’s deadlines.

If you are a nonmilitary voter located in the United States and you choose to use the mail to return your completed ballot, our general recommendation is that, as a common-sense measure, you mail your completed ballot before Election Day, and at least one week prior to your state’s deadline. Some states may recommend allowing even more time for mailing completed ballots. In addition, some states require mail-in ballots to be received by the election office by a specified deadline, while other states require mail-in ballots to be postmarked by a specific date and received within a certain number of days later. You should always check to make sure you understand your state’s requirements and recommendations on mailing your completed ballot. You can look for information about your state’s requirements and recommendations here: Find your state election website.

Some jurisdictions automatically mail ballots to all eligible voters. In jurisdictions that require eligible voters to request a ballot in order to receive one through the mail, we recommend that domestic, nonmilitary voters request their ballot as early as their jurisdiction allows.

Completed ballots are First-Class Mail®, regardless of whether they are prepaid by election officials or mailed with a stamp affixed by the voter. The only situation where completed ballots are not First-Class Mail is where the voter opts instead to pay for a premium service like Priority Mail® or Priority Mail Express®.

Unless your state or local election officials provide you with a prepaid return envelope, you should 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, if the voter decides to return their completed ballot by mail. Not only does federal law require proper postage, but it also helps ensure timely processing and delivery by the Postal Service.

The Postal Service’s policy is to postmark all ballots mailed by voters, whether they are prepaid by election officials or mailed with a stamp affixed by the voter. 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.

The Postal Service recognizes that Election Mail, and ballots in particular, are time-sensitive. We are committed to the expeditious processing and delivery of Election Mail, particularly ballots. However, to minimize the risk that a ballot will not arrive before your state’s deadline, we recommend that, as a best practice, voters act early if they plan to use the mail to return their completed ballot.

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.
  • In jurisdictions that require eligible voters to request a ballot in order to receive one through the mail, we recommend citizens who live abroad should request a ballot as early as their jurisdiction allows.
  • 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

We also recognize that voters have options other than the mail for participating in the electoral process. To ensure that individuals who wish to use the mail to vote can do so successfully, election officials and voters should keep in mind the time required for both legs of a ballot’s delivery through the mail — to the voter and back to election officials.

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

USPS mailpiece design analysts can provide guidance on envelopes that meet Postal Service 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 should 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 poorly designed mailpieces and state laws or other binding directives that do not build in enough time to account for mail delivery timeframes for time-sensitive Election Mail that is sent to and returned by voters using the mail. To ensure that individuals who wish to use the mail to vote can do so successfully, election officials and voters should keep in mind the time required for both legs of a ballot’s delivery through the mail — to the voter and back to election officials.

Yes, it can be applied to most Election Mail and the Postal Service strongly recommends its use by election officials. 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 election officials include the Official Election Mail logo on their Election Mail, but use of the logo is not required. The Official Election Mail logo should be used on any mailpiece created by an election official that is mailed to or from a citizen of the United States for the purpose of participating in the voting process.

When the Official Election Mail logo appears on a mailpiece, voters recognize the mail as important and as distinct from partisan political mailings. Additionally, the logo serves to identify official Election Mail for Postal Service workers and distinguishes it from the millions of other mailpieces that are processed daily.

Since this logo is a registered trademark, it is important for election officials to:

  • Read and comply with the requirements for its use.
  • Call 855-593-6093 to consult with a Postal Service mailpiece design analyst to determine how to incorporate the logo into the design of official Election Mail, or email requests or questions to MDA@usps.gov.

The Postal Service generally recommends that domestic, nonmilitary voters who choose to return their completed ballots by mail do so before Election Day, and at least one week prior to their state deadline. Some states may recommend allowing even more time for mailing completed ballots. Voters need to understand their jurisdiction’s requirements and recommendations, and we provide them with the following link to help: Find your state election website. 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.

The Postal Service can use localized continuity of operations plans in case of emergencies to help ensure that the USPS 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 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.

Or download: PDF | XLSX

Mailpiece design analysts

Mailpiece design analysts are specially trained USPS 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.