As Mail-In Voting Expands, Bipartisan Bill Would Require Barcodes on Ballots

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Mail-in ballots would be required to include a barcode when being processed by the Postal Service, as an extra level of election security under a measure set to be advanced Tuesday by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee

Oversight Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., announced Friday that his committee would hold a markup on several bills, including this one called the Vote by Mail Tracking Act.

At a time when almost any election bill is highly divisive and mail-in voting has become increasingly contentious, HR 5658 has attracted broad bipartisan support. 

As noted in my book “The Myth of Voter Suppression,” mail-in and absentee voting account for the largest number of adjudicated cases of voter fraud, ballot harvesting, and overturned election results.  

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A December poll conducted by Rasmussen Results, sponsored by the conservative Heartland Institute, found that 1 in 5 voters who voted by mail in 2020 admitted to election fraud of some sort. 

The bipartisan support behind mandating barcodes on mail-in ballots doesn’t mean it’s a certainty that the bill will pass. A nearly identical bill was advanced by the committee in 2022, cosponsored by then-ranking member Comer and then-Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. However, that bill didn’t pass either the House or Senate. 

The legislation slated for action Tuesday differs from the earlier version in carving out an exception for overseas military ballots, where absentee ballots often originate by other means than the Postal Service, such as military or international mail.

The bill clarifies that “ballots mailed within the United States for all federal elections be mailed in an envelope with a unique Postal Service barcode that allows the ballot to be tracked in the mail.”

The legislation also requires that the barcode used by election officials meets the Postal Service’s design requirements and standards for mail-processing machines to read, and includes an official election mail logo. 

This year’s bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.; Byron Donalds, R-Fla.;  Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz.; Katie Porter, D-Calif.; Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.; and Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; as well as the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.

As voting by mail increases, supporters of the bill note that the legislation is at least a step forward to increasing confidence in mail-in ballots. They also say it would require accountability on the part of state and local governments that expand voting by mail. 

Republicans who back the measure say they support having a better idea of where mail-in votes originated. 

“Americans’ faith in our electoral system is foundational to our democracy and we must do everything possible to restore and maintain confidence in that institution,” Fitzpatrick said in September when the bill was introduced. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure that every mail-in ballot is up to [the Postal Service’s] standards, able to be tracked, and marked as official election mail.”

Democrats also voiced support for ensuring that votes will be counted. 

“We need to make voting more accessible for the American public,” Connolly said. “As more people choose to vote absentee by mail, this simple measure will ensure all ballots are trackable and every valid vote is counted.”

The National Association of Counties, which represents the jurisdictions that run most elections in America, posted in November that the legislation “would improve efficiency and transparency in order to allow voters to see that their vote is delivered and maintain confidence in our elections.”

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