I Made a Mistake on my Ballot. How Do I Fix It?

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What happens if you've made an error on your ballot? And how can you fix it? (Wallace Chuck/Pexels)

It happens to everyone. You were so excited to fill out your 2020 ballot, ripping open the envelope with glee. You've researched the candidates and measures, filling in the ovals on your ballot for your preferred selections. You were ready to put it in the mail or drive it to a ballot drop box and then... it hits you: you accidentally filled in the wrong bubble. Or forgot to sign. Or put the wrong date.

First off, don't fret. There are steps you can take — even if you've already submitted your ballot.

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But importantly, each county is slightly different on how they'd prefer you address those mistakes. So if you have specific questions about your ballot, you can always contact your local Registrar of Voters to get advice and instructions.

"I filled in the wrong candidate"

If you haven't submitted your ballot yet:

You have some options. Some counties, like Alameda, ask that you actually contact them first if you make a serious mistake — including voting for the wrong candidate — so they can send you a replacement ballot. So, wherever you live, it's a good idea to check with your local elections office first to see what they recommend if you made a mistake.

Other county elections officials ask that you cross out the incorrect selection and fill in the correct selection — and make it as clear as possible what you do want to vote for. For example, you could cross out the selection with a clearly marked X and write a note next to the option you do want. You could put a "YES" next to the candidate you want and a "NO" next to the candidate you don't want.

If your ballot has two selections in a category where you can only vote for one candidate, elections officials refer to that as "over-voting." And when these situations come up, the ballot is flagged for review.

"Whenever there's an over-vote in a contest, those cards are actually removed from the processing, and then we do a manual review," said John Arntz, director of elections in San Francisco.

If elections officials can understand what the voter intended, they'll recreate the marked ballot on a clean one and submit that one for tallying. If not, they can reach out to you during what's called an "adjudication" process to ensure they understand what you wanted.

If you have already submitted your ballot:

Unfortunately, there's no way to correct a ballot once it has been cast and submitted to elections officials. So you'll want to get in touch with your county elections office to speak through your specific situation. Find out how to contact your county.

A San Francisco resident drops their mail-in ballot into a mailbox on Oct. 6, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

"I put the wrong date on my envelope"

If you haven't submitted your ballot yet:

It's easy. Just clearly cross out the incorrect date on the envelope and write in the correct one above it.

Remember, it should be the date that you signed your ballot. Many people have been asking us via our "ask a question" box if that date is meant to be the voter's birthdate. It's not.

If you have already submitted your ballot:

Don't worry. Elections officials say that the date they're really looking for is the date that the ballot is postmarked, to make sure it was submitted on time.

"We don't even look at it because we received the ballot prior to the Election Day," said John Gardner, assistant registrar of voters for Solano County. "It's when we receive your ballot after the Election Day, like maybe you mailed it Monday before Election Day. That's when we have to start looking at postmarks on the ballot, or date that the voter signed the envelope, to determine if we can count the ballot or not."

So: as long as you mail or drop off your ballot on Election Day, and it's postmarked by Nov. 3 at the latest, you don't need to worry about the date — because officials already know they're on time.

And don't forget: mailing a ballot too late on Election  Day itself — by placing it into a mailbox that's already had its last collection of the day, or taking it to a post office that's already closed — will mean that ballot is postmarked on the day after Election Day, and therefore too late to be counted. Don't make this mistake.

"I forgot to sign it"

If you haven't submitted your ballot yet:

Go ahead and sign it! And remember to date the envelope with the date of signing.

We've had a lot of questions from our audience about how to find out the "right" signature for your ballot. You can check the actual name you're registered to vote with online, although you can't check the signature there. However, it’s really likely that your voting signature is the one on your California driver’s license or your state ID. That's because when you register to vote online, your county elections office electronically requests a copy of the signature the DMV currently has for you, and this information is regularly updated.

So the best way to start is to take a look at the signature that's on your driver's license or state ID, as it's likely the one on file.

And if you're concerned that your signature has changed over the years, here's something that might reassure you: if you've done any business at the DMV between now and when you registered to vote that required your signature, that new signature is also on file.

"Anytime anyone makes a transaction at DMV and signs something, that signature is also on file," said Evelyn Mendez, public and legislative affairs manager at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. "That's the most current signature that we have on record."

But if you still don't think that's the right one, or if you have physical difficulty signing, there are a few things you can do. You can:

  • Re-register to vote with your current signature, to be sure that the state now has your most recent one on file
  • Have someone watch you making your mark, and sign on the ballot's "witness" line
  • Contact your county elections office for further assistance. You can also call the California Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).

And if you're worried about whether or not you should include your middle initial? Don't worry.

"I think sometimes people get confused because they hear about other states where it has to be an exact match, and it's not an exact match here," said Lynda Roberts, registrar of voters for Marin County. "The overall signature just has to compare to what we have on file."

In fact, according to the California code of regulations, "exact matches are not required for an elections official to confirm a valid signature."

"The example I always use is like my name," said Tim Dupuis, registrar of voters for Alameda County. "I sometimes sign my name as Tim, I sometimes sign that sign it as Timothy ... But I make my 'T' the same way, and I make the 'D' in Dupuis, my last name, the same.

"So when they see those things, when they see those points with consistency in the signature, we're going to err in the favor of the voter and that's going to we're going to validate that voter."

If you have already submitted your ballot:

You can contact your county elections office to let them know about the issue. But rest assured, there is a whole process for resolving problems with your signature on the ballot.

If your county's election office detects a signature mismatch on your ballot, they'll reach back out to you via mail to verify and work with you to correct it so that your ballot can be counted after all. The earlier you vote, the earlier the issue can be resolved. Though there is a long period allowed for this signature "curing process" after the election — about three weeks.

You could also sign up to track your ballot's progress online, and allow for email and phone notifications.

A Few Other Common Issues...

We asked your local elections officials for common issues to watch out for on the ballot. Here's what they said:

Make sure you're filling out and signing the ballot with your name on it: It's common to see partners or roommates accidentally mix up their ballots. So make sure you're signing the document that bears your name.

Make sure you use a black or blue pen: It reads better, and it doesn't slow workers down when they have to check to see what voter intent was. (Don't use a felt tip or a Sharpie that bleeds through the paper and marks other pages on your ballot.)

There are many ways to vote: If you don't want to put your ballot in the mail, you can drop it off at a drop box or go in person to a polling place in your county. Find your closest drop box or voting location.

Don't rush, but vote as early as you can: As soon as your ballot is submitted, election officials can begin processing your ballot and contacting you if there are any issues. And while no ballots will be counted before polls close on Election Day, submitting your ballot earlier means it'll be prepared to be counted earlier, and makes it more likely that your vote will be included in the first results announced on election night.

So, take your time, but try to get those ballots in as soon as possible.


Contact Your County Direct

Across the Bay Area, elections officials are encouraging voters to reach out — early — with any questions or concerns. Here's the contact information for your county:

  • Alameda: For information about voting by mail, registration and polling place lookup, call 510-267-8683.
  • Contra Costa: Call 925-335-7800 or email voter.services@vote.cccounty.us
  • Marin: You can call (415) 473-6456 or go to the Marin County elections page to send a form email.
  • NapaCall 707-253-4321 or email the Election office at elections@countyofnapa.org
  • San Francisco: You can get in touch with the department by calling (415) 554-4375 or emailing SFVote@sfgov.org
  • San MateoCall 888-762-8683 or email registrar@smcacre.org
  • Santa Clara: You can call toll-free at 1-866-430-VOTE (8683)​ or email registrar@rov.sccgov.org​​
  • SolanoCall 707-784-6675 or (888) 933-VOTE (8683). You can also email elections@solanocounty.com
  • SonomaCall 707-565-6800 or toll-free at (800) 750-8683.