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The Back-Office Implications of Mail-in Voting

As evidenced by delays in tabulating votes in many recent state primaries, the push towards mail-in voting for this fall’s elections may create new headaches for already overburdened government elections boards that do not modernize their back-office operations.

Demand for mail-in voting is growing as leaders look for ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

No one wants a repeat of the Wisconsin presidential primary when voters were forced to stand closely in line for hours during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. More government elections officials believe that mail-in ballots are a safer alternative to in-person voting in a global pandemic.

Laws for voting by mail vary by state. While most states allow all voters to cast a mail-in ballot, 17 states restrict mail-in voting to people with disabilities or an illness, or who will be out of town. But some states are lifting those restrictions because of fears of potentially spreading the virus. Every mail-in ballot is one less voter who could potentially be exposed to the highly contagious virus.

But mail-in voting could be an operational nightmare for elections officials, if not handled properly.

Consider the Situation in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, mail-in voting is dramatically altering the preparations and management of the fall election. A law signed last year enabled voters to cast ballots by mail without citing a reason. For decades, Pennsylvanians could only vote by mail with an absentee ballot.  Under the new law, 1.8 million voters applied to cast their ballots for the state’s June primary by mail – a huge increase over the number of absentee ballots cast in previous elections. County officials are already sounding the alarm about their ability to handle the potential volume of mail-in ballots for this fall’s election.

Counties are overworked as it is on elections, officials say, and now they are facing new hurdles.

A big concern of officials in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is whether they can count all the mail-in ballots fast enough for races to be decided or called on Election Night. Few counties are set up to process the enormous volume of mail-in ballots anticipated in   November. And the idea of delaying election results – particularly in a battleground state such as Pennsylvania – is untenable to many, especially at a time when the political divide in the United States is razor sharp.

Other Operational Implications

Delayed returns are not the only operational implication of mail-in voting. There is also:

  • Extracting and validating information on-the-fly from folded ballots  – it can be tricky.
  • Software must be correctly calibrated to ensure that a voter’s intentions are accurately recorded.
  • Potentially invalid ballots must be instantly identified and out sorted for review.
  • Software and hardware must be impervious to cyber-attacks.
  • And validating results requires officials to audit that all ballots were captured.

The problem is that the systems used by most governments to handle mail-in ballots do not provide the scalability, security, and accuracy to address these challenges. Some counties already employ a large hodgepodge of voting scanning machines that are hard to maintain and require a lot of labor.

Deploying more of these devices will only increase the complexity of these operations while opening the door more security issues and making it harder to distance staff.

What government elections officials need is a new approach to handling mail-in voting.

That is where intelligent data capture solutions come in. 

A New Approach to Handling Mail-In Voting

Automating the capture of mail-in ballots with intelligent data capture hardware and software enables government elections officials to quickly, accurately, and secure deliver voting results.

Faster Turnaround

Using the fastest high-volume scanners on the market enables elections officials to process a high-volume of mailed-in ballots in a short timeframe


Less Operations Complexity

Processing ballots with the fastest high-volume scanners on the market means fewer devices for elections officials to buy, maintain, secure, and train staff on. Having fewer devices also makes it easier to socially distance staff.

Accurate Results

Automated validation, superior image quality, and rapid out sorting of potentially invalid ballots ensures the delivery of accurate and usable information.


Ironclad Security

Sensitive information is secured from the moment it enters the operation with role-based access to functions and information, chain of custody assurance, activity logging, complete ballot audit trails, and sophisticated data encryption.


These are some of the reasons that the largest county in the United States used an intelligent data capture solution to process mail-in, print and touch-screen ballots during the last election.

Mail-in voting is critical to ensuring the health of voters during the pandemic. But mail-in voting also has big back-office implications for government elections officials. Intelligent data capture solutions provide the speed, accuracy and security governments will need in this new normal.

Learn how to speed results, satisfy voters, and ensure secure outcomes with the ibml Fusion.


Ready to see how the ibml Fusion fits with your jurisdiction's voting system?

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