How to avoid common mistakes for mail-in voting

Terrie Nielsen, deputy director of Portage County Board of Elections.

Terrie Nielsen, deputy director of Portage County Board of Elections.

As the coronavirus raises safety concerns for in-person voting, the number of mail-in ballot applications in Portage County have doubled compared to previous years.  

Terrie Nielsen, deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said 28,000 ballots were in the system as of Saturday, Oct. 3 compared to just 14,000 in the 2016 election. 

“We have also been pushing it, not only our office but special interest groups … suggesting that’s really the safest way for people to vote,” Nielsen said.

Mail-in ballots allow voters the ability to avoid long lines at the polls, but also leaves greater room for error. When voting in-person, most mistakes can be caught before official submission, but mail-in voting takes that chance away.

Here are a few suggestions to help avoid mistakes and a rejected ballot. 

  1. Ensure the ballot you fill out is your own

Nielsen said each ballot has a stub number on it and is assigned to a specific person. If a household receives multiple ballots for various family members, it’s easy to mix them up. 

“If one person [from the same household] doesn’t mail their ballot back, then none of them count,” Nielsen said. 

Once the ballot is filled out, remember to sign it. This signature will be compared to the signature on your voter registration application and absentee ballot request. 

“We know some people’s signatures change over time … so we take those things into consideration,” Nielsen said. 

However, if a signature doesn’t quite look right, Nielsen said they will compare the handwriting to the other ballots from that same household to determine if someone else signed the ballot. 

“It’s only when it’s pretty clear that’s what happened that we will reject anything for a signature,” Nielsen said. 

  1. Follow the instructions closely

The ID envelope will already have the voter’s name and address on it. Nielsen said the only thing you need to provide is date of birth and one form of identification, either the last four digits of your social security number or driver’s license. 

“When we do get ID envelopes that are non-conforming, we will send a letter to the voter and they have a cure period after each election,” Nielsen said.

This cure period lasts 10 days after Election Day where voters can provide the information needed. After the 10 day period, any non-conforming ballots will not count. 

Another consideration is using the proper ink color instructed on the ballot. While using an improper ink color like red won’t disqualify the ballot, it will complicate the process.

The high-speed scanner won’t read red ink, so the ballot would need to be remade. Nielsen said this process involves reprinting the exact same ballot and having a Democrat and Republican on the team fill out the ballot exactly as the voter did. 

  1.  Don’t miss the deadline

“It’s only for people who wait until the last minute that [mail-in voting] becomes a problem,” Nielsen said. 

In order for the mail-in ballot to count, they must be either postmarked the day before Election Day or dropped off at the board of elections office by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. 

Nielsen recommends voting early and encourages mail-in voting because it allows the chance to vote in the privacy of a home and is easy to drop in the mail or at the board of elections.

“There’s no way to tell whether you’ll be waiting in line,” Nielsen said. 

Contact Lauren Sasala at [email protected]