Five ways to not mess up your absentee ballot so that it counts

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 11:00am

    Don’t want to face the crowds at polling places on November 3 in order to vote? Your two choices are to vote early (up to October 30 in person at your municipal office) or to vote by mail. Given this unprecedented time when COVID-19 will be requiring social distancing at the polls and limitations on how many people can be inside their municipal offices at one time, it’s important, more than ever, to get a jump on it now.

    We Mainers have a strong voting turnout history. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Maine (EOC) was one of five states that had turnout rates exceeding 70 percent. However, with every election, inadvertent mistakes by voters can be made when mailing in ballots.

    Results of a survey done by the EAC on the 2016 election reported: “Approximately 80.1 percent of absentee ballots that were transmitted to voters were returned and processed, with 1.4 percent of transmitted ballots returned as undeliverable and 2 percent reported as spoiled (e.g., the voter returned the ballot and asked for a replacement). Some of the reasons for ballot rejection included: missing the deadline, submitting without a signature, returning the envelope with no ballot in it or multiple ballots in it, or incomplete information on the ballot.”

    To clear up the confusion on what constitutes the proper way of sending “multiple ballots” in one envelope, Seth Nelson, a spokesperson for the Maine Democratic Party, said, “A voter should only return his or her own ballots in a return envelope. However, many Maine voters will have multiple ballots they've completed themselves, i.e. a federal and state ballot, and a municipal ballot with elections for their town or city. As such, these voters will likely need two stamps to return their ballots by mail.”

    Nobody wants to go to the trouble of getting an absentee ballot only to accidentally screw it up. Here are five things you must check before mailing it:

    1. Mail it in 15 days early or drop off in person

    According to a July letter from the U.S. Postal Service made public, absentee voters should mail their ballots in with a regular stamp 15 days before November 3. Better yet, if you’re not sure you’re going to make it in time, drop it off at your municipal office, or in the official dropbox in front of the building. Do not just drop it into any random or “official-looking” dropbox you find on the street, as in this case of the California GOP who placed illegal and unofficial drop-off receptacles.

    2. Look it over twice—don’t forget to sign your name

    It seems like a boneheaded move, but the reason 20 percent of ballots got rejected in 2016 was that there was no signature on the ballot.

    3. Don’t get fancy with your signature

    Get this, Maine compares your absentee ballot signature with the signature on your voter registration records, so do the same signature you always do and never try to forge a family member’s (it’s a crime for obvious reasons) but also because it will likely get rejected!

    4. Don’t sign with non-standard ink—and keep your coffee cup far away!

    That pink gel pen your daughter likes to color with is not going to work when officially signing your ballot. Follow the instructions carefully on your ballot and if it says use blue or black ink–use blue or black ink! Also, because ballots can’t have any stray marks, keep your ballot safe from coffee stains, spills, or other unnecessary marks.

    5. Sign the outside of the envelope, as well

    Every state requires voters to sign the mailing envelope containing their ballot in order to affirm their identity and eligibility to vote and will then match it to their signature on the absentee ballot. (Again see #3 for what not to do) So, make sure this is your final step.

    Help! I might have spoiled my ballot. What do I do?

    “If a voter makes a mistake when completing a ballot, he or she can call their clerk to request a replacement,” said Nelson. “The first ballot will be marked as ‘spoiled’ in the Central Voter Registration System. Alternatively, the voter can bring the spoiled ballot in person to the resident’s town office or city hall, where he or she can then cast a replacement ballot in person. Or they can vote in-person at the polls on Election Day.”


    Here’s all the info you need to register, vote early and vote by absentee ballot

    How to vote absentee in the Nov. 3 election

    State offering absentee ballot tracking service

    Kay Stephens can be reached at