Virginia makes it easier for voters to track mail-in ballots

With questions and concerns about mail-in ballots lingering ahead of November, Virginia is trying to make it easier for voters across the state to see exactly where their ballots are.

Under a new rule approved by the state’s elections board Tuesday, voters will be able to track their absentee ballots every step of the way, thanks to special U.S. Postal Service barcodes that will be used to show where ballots are as they go from a voter’s address to their local registrar’s office.

“It’s similar to package delivery tracking,” said James Heo, a policy adviser for Virginia’s Department of Elections. “We hope that it’ll actually bring a bit more assurance and faith in the system.”

Some local election boards in Virginia were already doing that for voters, but the new rule makes it a requirement statewide.

“We’re mandating that localities create unique identifiers to track each individual ballot,” Heo said. “The voter can track through a dashboard site that we’re providing to the public, while the registrar can track internally.”

Using the U.S. Postal Service barcodes aims to give voters a greater sense of where exactly their ballots are, as opposed to other mail-in systems where voters have less information.

For example, in Maryland, voters who cast a ballot through the mail have typically been notified only when their ballot has been received, leaving them in limbo until they get that notification.

“You can track your Amazon package and you can track your mail, so you should be able to track this stuff,” said Heo.

In an abrupt reversal Tuesday, President Donald Trump encouraged voters in the critical swing state of Florida to vote by mail after months of criticizing the practice.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany rejected the notion that the Republican president changed his views. She said Trump supports absentee voting by mail for a specific reason, as opposed to states mailing out ballots to all voters regardless of whether they requested them.

Most election officials say there is little effective difference between absentee voting and voting by mail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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