How to track your ballot online

Want to make sure your vote counts in these high-stakes midterm elections? Track your ballot online like a UPS delivery.

The technology to do that is now available to more than a quarter of all Americans, in part because of investments made for mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

It can be as simple as signing up for text messages. Here’s one I got recently in California, where every voter gets sent a ballot in the mail: “Your ballot for the upcoming Nov. 8, 2022, General Election has been mailed to you. If you haven’t received your ballot within 7 business days, please contact us.”

For once, there’s a new use for technology that might build confidence in our democracy, rather than tear it down.

There are a few important things to know:

Ballot tracking won’t end all our debates about election fraud and making voting accessible to everyone. But the transparency helps us hold local election officials and the U.S. Postal Service accountable. And it can take away some of our own uncertainty about voting by mail.

That includes keeping you out of trouble. “Because you’ll have already received information that your ballot counted, you don’t have to jeopardize yourself committing a felony by voting again,” said Tammy Patrick, senior adviser to the elections team at the nonprofit Democracy Fund.

How does this work? Where can you get it? And what does it mean for your privacy?

Here’s a citizen’s guide based on my conversations with election officials and the companies that make the common ballot-tracking tech.