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Cyclist Mickey McDiarmid votes by dropping her completed ballot into a ballot drop box Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Bellingham, Wash. (AP) Cyclist Mickey McDiarmid votes by dropping her completed ballot into a ballot drop box Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Bellingham, Wash. (AP)

Cyclist Mickey McDiarmid votes by dropping her completed ballot into a ballot drop box Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Bellingham, Wash. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 20, 2020

Fact-checking a claim about when your mail ballot is due

If Your Time is short

  • Some states allow more time to request or receive a mail-in ballot than others. 

  • Some states have ways to speed up the process, including drop off ballot boxes or allowing voters to drop off mail ballots at polling places.

  • It’s best to check with your local state or local election officials about deadlines.

The United States is expected to break records for voting by mail this year and that’s creating a deluge of claims on social media about deadlines. Some are accurate, some are not.

"15 days left to vote BUT if you are voting by mail, you need to vote TODAY," reads one popular Instagram post. "USPS says it needs a 14 day roundtrip to be counted on election day." reads.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)  

The post is a screenshot of an Oct. 19 tweet by singer-songwriter Finneas Baird O'Connell, brother of singer Billie Eilish. Finneas’ Twitter profile photo is of the Biden/Harris campaign logo, but he has no official role with the campaign.

The post wrongly creates the impression that there is a national deadline to vote by mail. It’s also a confusing message: the first sentence says voters must send it mail ballots 15 days ahead of time while the second sentence says the post office needs a 14-day roundtrip, suggesting that a voter can mail it in seven days ahead of time.

Here’s what you should know:

The Postal Service did recommend in a national postcard in September that voters request the mail-in ballot at least 15 days before Election Day, Nov. 3, and return it at least seven days before Election Day. But this Instagram post omits the fact that states set their own laws about deadlines for receiving mail ballots. What’s more, many states have options for voters to bypass the mail to return their ballots in an official ballot drop box or drop off site.

Since the deadlines to return mail ballots vary by state, the best advice for voters is to check in with their local elections officials for information about when they must return their ballot, and their options for how to return it.

Featured Fact-check

RELATED: Fact-checking the controversy over the USPS voting mailer

Also, some states are automatically sending ballots to voters and therefore they don’t have to request them.

A spokesperson for the post office reiterated their previous advice, but also encouraged voters to check their state’s requirements. 

Our ruling

An Instagram post states "15 days left to vote BUT if you are voting by mail, you need to vote TODAY. USPS says it needs a 14 day roundtrip to be counted on election day."

The post is unclear and omits important context. USPS said in a postcard in September that voters who want to have their ballots counted in the Nov. 3 general election should request the mail-in ballot at least 15 days before Election Day and return it at least seven days before Election Day. But states set deadlines for receiving mail ballots, and many jurisdictions allow voters to bypass the mail and return ballots in official ballot drop boxes or drop off sites.

It’s a good idea to return a ballot as soon as you can, but if you want to know the actual deadline for your state, check in with your state or local elections office. If you want to find out if your city or county has a place where you can drop it off, check in with your local elections office which typically posts that information on their website.

We rate this statement Half True.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.

Our Sources

Finneas, Tweet and Instagram post, Oct. 19, 2020

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

PolitiFact, How Early Should You Send In Your Mail-in Ballot To Make Sure It Gets Counted? It Varies By State, July 28, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking the controversy over the USPS voting mailer, Sept. 15, 2020

PolitiFact, Ballot drop boxes have long been used without controversy. Then Trump got involved, Oct. 16, 2020

Email interview, Rosemary Boeglin, Joe Biden campaign spokesperson, Oct. 20, 2020

Email interview, Martha Johnson, U.S. Postal Service spokesperson, Oct. 20, 2020

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Fact-checking a claim about when your mail ballot is due

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