Mistake on your ballot? Here's what to do

Posted at 9:32 PM, Sep 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 00:32:10-04

It's been argued, and taken all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court: What should you do if you mess up your ballot this year?

According to election officials, what you can do, and what you can be told to do, are two very different things.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes submitted a new instruction to be included in the general election mail-in-ballot package.

The instruction read:

"Made a mistake? Cross out your mistake. Fill in the oval next to your corrected selection."

However, legal challengers argue that instruction is not only confusing, but unlawful to include.

"[Fontes] wasn't telling people the consequences of following his instruction, was that the ballot would be spit out and counted by humans instead of by machine," said Alexander Kolodin, attorney representing The Public Integrity Alliance, the group took action against the instruction. "I think if that if voters knew that their ballot was going to be treated differently, they might have an issue with that."

The issue cites a new statue, signed into law in February by Governor Doug Ducey, giving counties the ability to perform electronic adjudication if an error is found on a ballot.

According to the Maricopa County Elections Department, the Help America Vote Act requires counties to review ballots the automated tabulators can't read due to things like over-votes, a smudge, comment or an empty line on a ballot.

In the past, election officials have been forced to collect ballots tabulators reject, find the error, and try to discern the voters intent for the particular race where the mistake was made, then manually duplicate the entire ballot.

With electronic adjudication, the process is less time consuming and more secure, according to Maricopa County.

Tabulators will take a photo of an error, and the bi-partisan board tasked with figuring out what the voter wanted to choose will only see that contest. They'll make a digital mark on the vote, if they're able to discern which one was intended to be made, and never have to touch a voter's ballot.

The issue however, is not the process the county will go through if they receive a ballot with an error, it's what instruction to give the voter. Kolodin cites hand-counting more votes could lead to a longer wait for results.

"The law says that the instructions that the reporter must get is that is somebody who is on the early voting list messes up their ballot, they have to get a new ballot," said Kolidin. "Legitimacy is important in election, and the longer it takes to get a count, the more people are going to question the legitimacy of the election, we cannot afford that this year."

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled the county must not issue any instructions on how to correct a ballot. Instead, they must point voters to pick up a new ballot.

"If you do make a mistake on your ballot, and you send it to our office, we know how to deal with it. We have instructions not only in law but in the procedures manual on how to deal with it," said Fontes. "I was ordered to give a different instruction, but that doesn't change the fact that what I just said it's perfectly legal."

If you need a new ballot, you'll need to call your county elections department, who will issue you a new one via mail. However, the deadline to request a ballot by mail is October 23.

After that date, you may need to go to a polling place to fill out a new ballot.

Maricopa County releasing locations Thursday for voters to drop off ballots starting October 7, you can find a map with all voting centers and drop box locations here: