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Common ballot mistakes and how to fix them

FILE -- Election ballots are processed by workers at the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office in Provo on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — What do you do if you accidentally filled in two bubbles on your ballot, or spill your drink on it? We went to the source and asked the county clerks. Here’s their answer to a few common ballot mistakes and how to fix them.

Mail-in ballots need to be postmarked by Monday, or taken to a dropbox or polling location by 8 p.m. on Election Day. But some County Clerks say plenty of voters end up voting in person instead because they’re worried they messed up filling out their ballot.

KSL talked with Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers Gardner and Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch to answer some common ballot mistake questions so you can rest assured your vote counts and still drop off that ballot.

Common Ballot Mistakes


Can you mess up your ballot?

Both Hatch and Powers Gardiner say there’s no such thing as invalidating your ballot by messing up on it.

“The only way that your vote doesn’t count is if we can’t verify your signature and we can’t contact you to verify that it was really you that signed your ballot,” Powers Gardiner says.

A perfectly filled out ballot, they say, just makes their job easier when counting them, but your vote will count as long as they can tell who you wanted to vote for. 

“The scanner will notice a stray mark at that point we have two people look at your ballot and what they’re looking for is voter intent.”

Filled in two bubbles or selected the wrong candidate

This is the most common mistake the clerks say they see. Hatch says in this case, just cross out the candidate you didn’t want and write “this one” next to the one that you do.

If you didn’t do that and sent in your ballot anyway, Powers Gardiner says they will simply not count that race for you but will count all the others. 

An accidental dot or line on the candidate you didn’t want

“We call that a pen rest,” says Powers Gardiner. “You clearly fill in the bubble you do want really nicely,” she says. You can also circle the candidate you do want, again, in order to clearly signal your intent.

Nearly 60% of Utah active voters’ ballots processed


“Wipe if off as best you can.” Powers Gardiner says. Then you can still send it in and they’ll do what’s called the duplication process.

“Two employees will stand side by side and they remake your ballot,” she says.

As long as you can still legibly write on it, they can do this process.

A hole, rip or tear

When the ballot gets to them they will tape it really nicely, or you can try that at home. Powers Gardiner says they’ll still try to put it through the scanner.

“If we can’t, we’ll do the duplication process,” she says.

Forgot the security sleeve

In Salt Lake County, for example, voters are given a security sleeve to put the ballot in before sealing the envelope. The clerks say this is simply for the voter’s protection so no one can see who they voted for. If you’re comfortable not using it, or forgot to insert it, it won’t have any impact on the validity of your ballot. 

Sealed the envelope but want to change something

“Very carefully slice it open, then you can tape it back closed again,” says Hatch. But in this case, Powers Gardner says making it known you did this by signing the tear is very important.

“We’re going to think that maybe someone tampered with your ballot,” she says. “Sometimes it’s better to just get a replacement envelope.” You can do that at a polling location when you go to drop it off.

If you didn’t sign it after resealing it, clerks will also call you if they see the envelope has been opened and ask whether you’re the one who did that.

“If you didn’t,” says Powers Gardner, “we don’t want to touch it, we want to get the FBI involved.” 

Kids wrote on it or wrote in dog for president

Finally, if your kids accidentally used it as scratch paper that’s okay. Powers Gardner says she had one voter who’s kid wrote “dog” in for President. In these cases she says again, making sure your intent is clearly known will make it so they count your vote properly.

“Every single ballot is looked at by human eyes,” says Hatch. “While we scan them for the results we will see if there’s an error.”

Your Voice, Your Vote | KSL’s 2020 Election Guide