Mail Dates for The Big Send

Vote Forward

We’ve received a lot of questions about the Post Office and our plans for sending the letters you have written. Here is a statement from Vote Forward, the organizers of our letter writing initiative:


  • We’ve heard your concerns about The Big Send mail date, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure your letters are timed for maximum effect.
  • Many experiments have shown that GOTV messages sent too early are ineffective. Really! Trust us on this. Please send your letters on the official Vote Forward mail date, not earlier.
  • We are preparing to set a new, earlier October mail date for The Big Send. But we only want to change it once, so we will announce the new mail date in late September.

Here is a more comprehensive statement:

When we launched our 2020 GOTV (Get Out The Vote) campaigns in January, we did not anticipate that U.S. mail delivery, a vital part of the nation’s infrastructure, would become a political issue.

We did not anticipate that record numbers of us would want to vote by mail amid a global pandemic.

We also did not anticipate that Vote Forward’s letter writing efforts would emerge as one of the safest and most effective ways to encourage voters to turn out this fall.

And while we may not have planned for these eventualities, we are busy navigating them to ensure that your letters will be delivered in time to do what they are intended to do: to encourage relatively unlikely voters to cast a ballot in the 2020 general election.

To make certain that your letters are as effective as possible at increasing voter turnout, we will be setting an earlier October mail date.

What we’re doing to set a new mail date

Like you, we’re thinking a lot about recent news stories and the near future of USPS. And we’re keeping a close eye on the lawsuits, appeals, legislation, and electoral policy changes in our key states that affect how and when ballots must be received to be counted.

We’re also collecting a sampling of real life, real-time first-class USPS delivery times from states across the U.S. to our key states; this information is being gathered by Vote Forward volunteers participating in our Mailbox-to-Mailbox: Assessing USPS project. And soon, when we have the data from our recent Vote Forward Labs experiment in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, we’ll have more insight into whether sending “please vote” letters much earlier than planned could dampen the impact of your letters on voter turnout.

Why we’re doing all of this research now

Ordinarily, and in all of the experiments we’ve conducted in the past to show that letters increase voter turnout, we’ve sent them as close as possible to the election without missing it because we know that “please vote” messages fade from memory quickly, and because the relatively unlikely voters we’re encouraging tend to make the decision to vote — or not — close to the last minute.

We also know from a great deal of historical evidence in rigorously conducted experiments that “please vote” messages communicated too early have essentially no effect on voter turnout. We cannot make the mistake of setting a mail date that is so early it results in your letters being ineffectual.

And during the 2020 primaries, we learned that the number of requested absentee ballots sometimes exceeded the number of ballots returned by close to 40 percent on the day before the primary election. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but it bolsters our thinking that a Vote Forward letter received days before the ballot return deadline could close this gap.

Why we cannot rush to set a new mail date

We’re writing to voters in 15 different states, with 15 different sets of election rules and deadlines, amid layers of lawsuits to change these rules and deadlines, evolving policy changes by elected and election officials, an uneven postal service, and record vote by mail spikes during a pandemic.

Following all of the above, we can tell you the electoral landscape in our key states continues to change each day. And each day we learn a little more about the status of mail delivery.

What we know about first-class mail and election mail

Some of you have written in, worried about overwhelming USPS by adding 10 million letters to the mailstream on a single day. The USPS Postal Facts for “one day” offers this perspective: USPS processes and delivers 181.9 million pieces of first-class mail each day, and on average, USPS processes 19.7 million mail pieces each hour. Given this consideration, we are planning to stick with a single mail date because staggered mail dates would require system changes, necessitate last moment letter sorting, and introduce unnecessary complexity into our efforts.

Other volunteers have written to say they’re concerned that our letters could delay the delivery of ballots by mail. As things stand, when prepared according to USPS guidance, official election mail, which includes official ballot materials and absentee applications, is given priority over first-class mail. These official election mail pieces feature three digit Service Type Identifiers, which are part of the Intelligent Mail Barcode. They increase the visibility of outbound and return election mail within the automated USPS environment and help with tracking.

We’ve also heard from volunteers who say that October 27th is too late to mail. We agree. This is the ideal mail date in an ordinary election year. We will email you with the new, official October mail date in late September.

Electoral policies are still in flux, but here is a snapshot of where things stand in our key states

A few highlights:

Non-mail ways to return a ballot
Many of our key states use and are adding ballot drop boxes, which offer a no-contact way to return a ballot and eliminate the time it would ordinarily take to return a ballot by mail. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Ohio (one per county), Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (available by municipality) will offer ballot drop boxes for the general election. Maine, with one drop box installed this summer in Bangor, is exploring the addition of ballot drop boxes. And ballots can be returned to local election offices in our key states, either by the voter or by a family member or “authorized designee,” with the exception of Pennsylvania, which limits returns to the voter.

Mailing and tracking ballots
Election officials in Michigan are collaborating with USPS officials to ensure that election mailings are highly visible and prioritized in their system. Arizona has adjusted its guidance on when to return a ballot by mail. And Florida, Wisconsin, and other key states are increasing voter education efforts to communicate the importance of requesting and returning mail-in ballots as early as possible.

Online ballot tracking, which displays if a voter’s ballot was sent and received, is already available in Arizona, Colorado (by municipality), Florida, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Maine voters can call their municipal clerk to track a ballot; and Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are adding technology that will allow voters and elections staff to track ballots as they move through the mailstream.

Voting early, either in-person or by mail
“No excuse” absentee voting is available in all of our key states, except Texas. In Colorado and Nevada, voters will receive general election ballots by mail. And Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin are mailing absentee ballot request forms to voters.

Where it is available, early voting or in-person absentee voting is possible through at least October 29th in our key states, and through November 2nd in Ohio, Montana, and Iowa. Only the key states of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire offer no early voting.

Extending ballot receipt deadlines
Lawsuits to extend ballot return deadlines from “received before polls close” on Election Day to “postmarked on” Election Day and received in the days following the election are active in Georgia, Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other key states. In Arizona, a lawsuit filed to order the acceptance of ballots postmarked on Election Day was settled; ballots must still be received on Election Day, but the Secretary of State is required to increase voter education about the ballot receipt deadline. In Montana, plaintiffs prevailed in a lawsuit to accept ballots postmarked on Election Day and to allow for ballot drop boxes.

Don’t forget: Your letters are key, but they are not the only election communication your voters will receive

Election officials, state parties, and organizations on the ground in our key states are working hard to educate voters and provide the guidance they need to vote safely in the 2020 general election, including recommending they request a mail-in ballot as early as possible. Because we’re not alone in this effort, and given the risk of providing information that may be outdated by the time your letters arrive, we recommend against adding dates or details on voting methods to your letters or envelopes.

We have one favor to ask

Vote Forward is thrilled to be experiencing a surge in new sign-ups and activity, and with that, our Helpdesk is experiencing a high volume of emails. Vote Forward’s Helpdesk is staffed by a dedicated team of Vote Forward volunteers, who are working hard to support their fellow volunteers to keep the templates printing and letter stockpiles growing.

We will email you to inform you of the new, official October mail date in late September. Until then, whenever possible, please hold off on emailing the Helpdesk about the mail date. We hope you know from this lengthy message that we are acutely aware of what is happening on the ground in our key states, and we are doing everything possible to find the most effective mail date for your letters.

Please keep writing letters (so really two favors to ask)

Your “please vote” letters will provide the extra encouragement that will inspire more voices to be heard this fall.

We urge you to leave the mail date research and worries to us, so you can instead focus on what will make a difference this fall: writing more letters, recruiting friends and family to join this effort, becoming a poll worker if you can, buying stamps, and taking good care of yourselves as we work to increase voter turnout for the general election.

Thank you, as always, for all of your efforts.

The Vote Forward team