Mail-in ballot tracker: counting election votes in US swing states

By Juweek Adolphe

This piece is published in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive their biggest stories as soon as they’re published

An unprecedented number of Americans have voted by mail this year to avoid Covid-19 risk. Joe Biden’s supporters said they were more likely to vote by mail while Donald Trump’s supporters said they were more likely to vote in person. With postal delays, rejected ballots and a dearth of funding, the process isn’t always smooth – ballots can be rejected for multiple reasons, and due to court challenges, election rules are changing even while voting is underway. Meanwhile, Trump and other Republican officials have spent the last months casting doubt on the mail-in voting process, paving the way for legal battles during the vote count.

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With data from University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald, the Guardian and ProPublica are tracking votes in politically competitive states through the election to find out how many people are voting by mail, how their votes are counted, and what it means for the 2020 election. Our tracker will be updated as we obtain updated information, as well as other state data. We will also be investigating any aberrations and issues in the mail-in voting process as we find them, and telling the stories of the people and communities affected most.


16 electoral votes

Democrats believe Joe Biden may be able to win a state long seen as a Republican bastion, which would be a coup for the campaign. More people have already returned their ballots than voted by mail in total in 2016. The state has thousands of outstanding ballots to count, and liberal cities like Atlanta are expected to skew more towards Biden. Voters must return their ballots to election offices by election day in order to have them counted.


10 electoral votes

Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes, a year when voter turnout in key cities such as Milwaukee was also low. This year, voting rights groups are pushing the state to count ballots if they are postmarked by election day but arrive afterward. Currently, mail-in ballots must be received by 3 November at 8pm.


20 electoral votes

Home to some of the most intense legal battles of the election, the state where Joe Biden was born could be the deciding factor in 2020. Pennsylvania had been a Democratic stronghold for six presidential elections until Trump carried the state by 0.7% in 2016. It’s very possible that the election result in Pennsylvania will not be known for days. That’s because Philadelphia, the state’s biggest city, could take days to count its mail-in ballots, according to officials there. Ballots must be postmarked by election day and received by 6 November at 5pm to be counted.


29 electoral votes

Few states were more important on election night than Florida, where Trump has already been projected the winner. Voters must return their ballots to election offices by 7pm on election night to have them counted. Local election officials are required to contact voters if the signature on their ballot does not match the one on file.

North Carolina

15 electoral votes

A battleground state Donald Trump carried in 2016, North Carolina is in the spotlight for being still too close to call. The state has seen an unprecedented surge in mail-in voting, not typically used widely in the state. Ballots must be postmarked by election day and received no later than 12 November at 5pm.


16 electoral votes

Michigan is one of the midwestern states that offer a clear path of victory for Joe Biden. The state has seen a massive change in voting procedures since 2016, including a constitutional amendment that gives everyone in the state the right to vote by mail without an excuse. Ballots must be postmarked by election day and received that day by 8pm.


18 electoral votes

Trump won the swing state easily in 2016, and was declared the projected winner on Tuesday night. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by 2 November, or in person on election day, and received by 13 November at 7.30pm.


Six electoral votes

Donald Trump won Iowa on election night, while Democrats failed to oust the first-term GOP senator Joni Ernst. Anyone in Iowa is eligible to vote by mail and must return their ballot to election officials by the close of the polls on election day to have it counted.


10 electoral votes

Trump claimed he could win Minnesota this year, though he lost the reliable blue state in 2016 by 1.5%, because of rural voters who favor the president. But after police killed the unarmed Black man George Floyd in the state earlier this year, it also launched the biggest protest movement and civil unrest in decades – a factor that could play into voter turnout. Ballots must be postmarked by 3 November, and received by 10 November.