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Here Are the Most Common Mistakes Voters Make With Their Ballots

NBC Washington D.C. logo NBC Washington D.C. 10/20/2020 Aimee Cho
a person sitting on a table: L: Smiley stickers stuck on a ballot received in Montgomery County, Maryland. R: Election judges prepare early mail-in ballots to be scanned by the Montgomery County Board of Elections. © Provided by NBC Washington D.C.

L: Smiley stickers stuck on a ballot received in Montgomery County, Maryland. R: Election judges prepare early mail-in ballots to be scanned by the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

D.C.-area election officials are sharing warnings about the most common ballot mistakes people make -- as well as some less common ones -- and how you can avoid them.

For starters, make sure you don't place smiley stickers by every question. Election officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, say their faces weren't quite so happy when they discovered one voter had done just that.

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"Please, no stickers, no crayons, no markers, no highlighters," said Gilberto Zelaya of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. "Otherwise we will need to duplicate it and you're just slowing down the process for us."

Duplicating is what happens when a ballot comes in that can't be read by scanners. Election officials work in bipartisan teams of two to transfer the voter's choices onto a new ballot.

"Once or twice, you'll get individuals who really didn't follow the rules, but nonetheless we are here to serve," Zelaya said.

Election officials around the D.C. area said the most common ballot mistakes include:

  • sloppy bubbling, or using checkmarks instead of filling in the bubbles
  • selecting too many candidates
  • having coffee stains on their ballot
  • voters who write down their birthdate instead of the date they signed the ballot

"Those errors have been very few and far between," said D.C. Board of Elections spokesperson Nick Jacobs. "On the whole, D.C. voters have been doing a fabulous job."

In Charles County, Maryland, election officials said some people have accidentally submitted sample ballots. Those don't count.

And in Fairfax County, Virginia, officials want voters to make sure they send in this year's ballot.

"We had a ballot returned from 2018 that the voter had found in a desk drawer and they just decided to go ahead and return it," said Fairfax County Director of Elections Gary Scott.

Spoiler alert: That ballot didn't count, either.

Officials say above all else, make sure to simply read the directions.

Here are a few more tips:

  • If your ballot consists of multiple pages, make sure to return all the pages, even if you leave some of them blank.
  • Also, election officials say some people try to use their own envelopes instead of the ones provided or they seal the envelope with tape. Those are things you want to avoid.

Tuesday is the last day to request a mail-in ballot in Maryland. In Virginia, you have until Friday. The District already sent mail-in ballots to all of its registered voters.

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