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Voter Linda Borman drops her ballot into the ballot box outside the Boston Public Library, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Boston. (AP) Voter Linda Borman drops her ballot into the ballot box outside the Boston Public Library, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Boston. (AP)

Voter Linda Borman drops her ballot into the ballot box outside the Boston Public Library, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Boston. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman October 28, 2020

Question: "With the election less than one week away, is it too late to mail in your ballot?"


With only six days to go until Election Day, experts say that now it might be better to submit your ballot at a drop box or to vote in person rather than use the mail.

The deadlines to return mail ballots vary by state, and some allow more time to request or receive a mail-in ballot than others. Some states also have ways to speed up the return process, allowing voters to drop off ballots at special collection boxes or at polling places.

For the most part, though, if you haven’t returned a mail ballot yet, it might be time to go with a backup plan. (As always, check the rules in your location.) 

David Becker, executive director at the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, said it’s simply too late, practically speaking, to request a mail-in ballot, and recommends that people instead vote in person and early if possible. He has the same go-in-person advice for voters who have already requested an absentee ballot but haven’t received it.

"You may need to cast a provisional ballot, but it’s the best way to ensure your ballot will be received and counted on time at this point," Becker told PolitiFact.

For those who have not returned a mail ballot in their possession, he said it needs to be returned to a drop box or election office immediately, which is possible in most states.

He was clear: "Do not put it in the mail at this point unless that’s your only option."

Becker cautioned against going by posted deadlines for ballots received after Election Day given the potential for late-breaking litigation that could change the situation in some states. (See what happened in Wisconsin.) 

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign also altered its language about mail ballots in the week leading up to Election Day, the Washington Post reported, encouraging voters to bring ballots to secure drop box locations, or to vote in person, rather than go through the mail.

The U.S. Postal service told PolitiFact that its priority between now and the election is the secure, timely delivery of the nation’s election mail.

"Now, less than a week to the election, the Postal Service continues to recommend that, as a common sense measure, voters should mail their completed ballots before Election Day and at least one week prior to your state’s deadline," the agency said. "Some states may recommend allowing even more time for mailing completed ballots. Voters should keep these recommendations in mind when deciding how to return their ballots."

Voters should choose whatever method that they feel is best to get their ballot in on the timeline that their election officials require, said Lucille Wenegieme, director of communications and public relations at the National Vote at Home Institute.

"We are in this squishy area where we are less than a week out, and while there are extraordinary measures being issued by the USPS to ensure that election mail is delivered safely and promptly, it is in the best interest of the voter to know what their options are to choose what they are most comfortable with," Wenegieme said.

Disruptions at the postal service have created anxiety for campaigns and voters over whether the agency will be able to handle the largest number of mailed ballots in U.S. history.

Nationally, 85.6% of first-class mail was delivered on time for the week of Oct. 10-16, according to a weekly report released by the USPS, marking the 14th consecutive week that the rate remained under 90%.

According to data that the USPS submitted in court, the agency’s ballot delivery performance is significantly better than its service for other first-class parcels. It delivered 96.7% of outgoing ballots on time for the week ending Oct. 16, and 95.6% of completed ballots to election officials. These figures only represent mail that the agency identified as ballots, and weekly "all clear" sweeps of sorting plants have found ballots that were missed, or not included in the results.

Meanwhile, the agency says it has authorized employees to take "extraordinary measures" between Oct. 26 and Nov. 24 in order to accelerate the delivery of ballots, including expedited handling, extra deliveries and special pickups.

RELATED: How Early Should You Send In Your Mail-in Ballot To Make Sure It Gets Counted? It Varies By State 

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Our Sources

PolitiFact, Fact-checking a claim about when your mail ballot is due, Oct. 20, 2020, Absentee ballot deadlines by state, Accessed Oct. 28, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, VOPP: Table 11: Receipt and Postmark Deadlines for Absentee Ballots, Sept. 29, 2020 

U.S. Postal Service, The U.S. Postal Service Issues New Service Performance Report for the Week of October 10th, Accessed Oct. 28, 2020

USPS Service Performance Reports thru week of 10-10-20, Joe Biden Campaign Speech Transcript Atlanta, Georgia October 27 

Washington Post, Amid USPS delays, election experts and campaigns weigh in: Don’t mail your ballot, oct. 27, 2020 

New York Times, One Week Before Election, the Mail Is Still Slow, updated Oct. 26, 2020 

NBC News, Federal judge blocks Postal Service changes that slowed mail, Sept. 17, 2020

CNN,Court sets plan to make sure Postal Service delivers ballots quickly, one week ahead of Election Day, Oct. 27, 2020

Email interview, David Becker executive director at the Center for Election Innovation and Research, Oct. 28, 2020

Email interview, Martha S. Johnson, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, Oct. 28, 2020

Phone interview, Lucille Wenegieme director of communications and public relations at the National Vote at Home Institute, Oct. 28, 2020

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Ask PolitiFact: Is it too late to mail in your ballot?