Fact-Check: No, an Illinois Couple Who Received Five Vote-by-mail Applications Cannot Vote Five Times.
A common misconception going around social media is that people who receive multiple mail ballot applications can, in turn, vote multiple times, and no one would know.
It’s the kind of situation floated by opponents of voting by mail to warn of possible abuse.
A Facebook page called "Just the Facts" shared an image that shows five envelopes marked as Official Election Mail from the Fayette County Clerk & Recorder’s Office, which is in Illinois. The caption says the applications were sent to five different people at one address. The post claims that the Illinois couple who received them could easily use the applications to get multiple ballots and cast multiple votes.
The post reads: "A husband and wife received 5 ‘vote by mail’ ballots request. They were unsolicited. All this couple has to do is fill them out, and mail them in. They will be sent 5 ballots. Two people will be able to cast 5 votes with no one the wiser."
This is wrong. Election officials are required to conduct a verification process on ballot applications that makes it highly unlikely that such a scheme would work. It’s also illegal, and anyone who tried to do this would be guilty of a felony, and likely get caught.
The 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.)
Vote-by-mail ballot applications, like the ones in the photo, come from the county clerk and are specific to the voter to whom they are addressed. Voters must sign and return the application to receive a ballot. But before election officials can mail out a ballot to a voter, they check that the signature on the ballot application matches the signature on record.
"In this case, if a voter were to sign applications other than his own, he would be committing voter fraud," Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told PolitiFact. "That’s a felony, and an easy one to catch since these applications are intended for the specific voters to whom they are addressed."
An Illinois special election law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June requires local election authorities to send a vote-by-mail application to any registered voter who participated in the 2018 general, 2019 consolidated or 2020 primary election, by Aug. 1.
The law requires that the application be mailed "to the elector's registered address and any other mailing address the election authority may have on file, including a mailing address to which a prior vote-by-mail ballot was mailed."
"So it’s likely that some voters may be sent more than one application," Dietrich said. "However, they will only receive one ballot no matter how many applications they return. Applications and ballots are mailed and tracked by a voter’s unique voter ID number. Once a voter’s application is received, any subsequent applications will be rejected."
Jessica Barker, the clerk for Fayette County, told PolitiFact the post is wrong. She said the county clerks of Illinois were required under the law to mail applications to eligible registered voters, and that it’s the voters’ responsibility to keep their information current with local election officials.
The application-then-ballot process is common for mail-in voting, but not universal. In May, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, ordered all counties to proactively send out mail-in ballots to all registered voters, citing health concerns amid COVID-19. Vermont, Nevada and Montana have passed similar measures.
But states have put safeguards in place to deter voter fraud and ensure each ballot is tallied correctly.
In California, for example, when election officials receive a vote-by-mail ballot, the voter's signature on the return envelope is compared with the voter's registration card to ensure they match. The ballot is also separated from the envelope before it's tallied to ensure anonymity.
Election experts across the country have said that fraudulent mail-in voting is exceedingly rare.
For example, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and public policy institute, found that Oregon – a state that votes primarily by mail – has sent out more than 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000, but has documented only about a dozen cases of proven fraud.
A Facebook post says an Illinois couple received five vote-by-mail applications and will be able use them to receive multiple ballots and cast multiple votes.
This is inaccurate. Anyone who attempts to do this is committing fraud, and before election officials mail out a ballot to a voter, the signature on the application must match the signature on record. Each voter has a unique voter ID number that’s tied to a single ballot, so once a voter’s application is received, any subsequent applications will be rejected.
We rate this False.
Facebook post, Aug. 7, 2020
Illinois General Assembly, ELECTIONS (10 ILCS 5/) Election Code, Accessed Aug. 11, 2020
Associated Press, Five vote-by-mail forms do not mean Illinois couple can get five ballots, Aug. 7, 2020
Brennan Center for Justice, The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud, April 10, 202
Brookings.edu, How does vote-by-mail work and does it increase election fraud?, June 22, 2020
Washington Post, At least 76% of American voters can cast ballots by mail in the fall, Aug. 11, 2020
California Secretary of State, Vote by Mail - November, 3, 2020, General Election, Accessed Aug. 13, 2020
Email interview, Matt Dietrich public information officer at the Illinois State Board of Elections, Aug. 10, 2020
Email interview, Jessica Barker Fayette County Clerk, Aug. 11, 2020