Carter Center Statement on Voting by Mail for 2020 U.S. Elections

ATLANTA (May 6, 2020) — The United States faces a series of critical challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including serious impediments to holding safe, secure, and inclusive elections in November. Many voters across the U.S. are likely to find themselves in areas where the pandemic has not abated and where the health risks involved in going to polling locations will be unacceptably high. 

To address this threat, The Carter Center urges federal and state governments to expand access to vote-by-mail options and to provide adequate funding as quickly as possible to allow for the additional planning, preparation, equipment, and public messaging that will be required.

The nonpartisan 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, noted among its many findings and recommendations that because it takes place outside the regulated environment of local polling locations, voting by mail creates increased logistical challenges and the potential for vote fraud, especially if safeguards are lacking or when candidates or political party activists are allowed to handle mail-in or absentee ballots. 

However, the Carter-Baker Commission found that where safeguards for ballot integrity are in place – for example in Oregon, where the entire state has voted by mail since 1998 – there was little evidence of voter fraud. The commission’s main recommendations on vote-by-mail and absentee voting were to increase research on vote-by-mail (and early voting) and to eliminate the practice of allowing candidates or party workers to pick up and deliver absentee ballots.  Fortunately, since 2005, many states have gained substantial experience in vote-by-mail and have shown how key concerns can be effectively addressed through appropriate planning, resources, training, and messaging.

“I urge political leaders across the country to take immediate steps to expand vote-by-mail and other measures that can help protect the core of American democracy – the right of our citizens to vote,” said former President Carter.

Among the key areas to address are:

  • Expanding easy access to absentee ballot request forms online and ensuring that requested ballots are received with enough time to vote and return the ballot for counting.
  • Providing options for returning a ballot, including prepaid postage, use of a USPS postmark or other official data to verify that the ballots were cast on time, and accessible drop-off boxes.
  • Establishing adequate security provisions for all ballots, including ballots received by polling officials in advance of Election Day.
  • Providing additional funding for election administrators for ballot printing, postage, ballot-tracking and processing, staff training, etc.
  • Disseminating clear public messaging about deadlines for ballot requests, submissions, steps needed to ensure ballots are valid (e.g. signing envelopes),and about the time it takes to count absentee ballots and finalize official results. 
  • In addition to giving all voters the option to vote by mail, establishing COVID-19-sensitive polling locations on Election Day and for advance voting so that voters who need assistance or who prefer to vote in-person can cast a secret ballot, privately and free from outside influence.



Contact: In Atlanta, Soyia Ellison,

Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.

A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.