Filling out an absentee ballot is like taking a test: You can get everything right and still fail if you forget to sign your name.
Fortunately for the 2020 election and the tens of millions of people expected to cast an absentee ballot, many for the first time, small paperwork errors aren’t unfixable — as long as you get your ballot in the mail early enough for your local board of elections to send it back for review.
It’s a practice called “ballot curing”: Vote-counters red-flagging absentee ballots that arrive with errors and sending them back to the voters who mailed them in. Ballots can be red-flagged for incorrect addresses, ID numbers or dates of birth, signatures that don’t match their on-file counterparts and names that have been printed instead of signed.
Signatures can be especially tricky, according to Julia Vaughn of the Indiana-based advocacy group Common Cause.
“Be aware that your signature is going to be compared with another signature that the election office has on hand,” she said. “In some cases, that signature can go back to when you first registered to vote at 18.”
And what happens if something is off?
“We cannot process the ballot,” said Julia Carney, director of the Clermont County Board of Elections. “So we will send you what is called an 11S form, and that's how you cure your ballot."
The 11S is Ohio’s fix-it form, and counties are required to send one to voters whose absentee ballots have problems.
In the past, those voters might not know their ballot was in danger of being discarded until the form arrived via mail. In 2020, according to Carney, they’ll receive phone calls and emails to ensure they’re expecting the form and are prepared to cure their ballots.
According to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, mail ballots are rejected at nearly twice the rate of in-person ballots. First-time voters, young voters and voters of color are the most likely to have their ballots thrown out because of paperwork errors.
Ohio election officials, including Secretary of State Frank LaRose, hope to change that in 2020. The Buckeye State is embracing the anticipated surge of absentee votes and encouraging voters to track their ballots.
Sherry Poland, who leads the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said voters anxious about the status of their ballot can contact her office to ensure all is well.
“A few days after they've mailed their ballot — maybe give it about five days — check our website or give us a call,” she said.
Ballot-curing practices, paperwork and deadlines vary by state, but one thing stays the same everywhere: Election officials’ urging that you send in your ballot early and, if necessary, cure it early, too. It’s your best chance of ensuring your vote will be counted.