The 1 2 3s of Election Ballots: The Different Types and the Different Times They’re Counted

1.       Traditional Ballot- Registered voters go to their polling station and cast their ballot in person on the day of the election.

2.       Absentee Ballot- There are multiple ways to receive and return an absentee ballot. You can apply online and your state will mail you the ballot. Once you’ve filled it out you can mail it back to cast your vote. The deadline for applying and mailing back your ballot are different depending on the state, however, it is always before Election Day. Some states will allow you to turn in your ballot in person as long as it’s before the deadline.

The second way to file an absentee ballot is to go directly to the voting office and fill out and cast the ballot on the same day.

*21 States require you have a valid excuse for not being able to vote on Election Day*

3.       Military Ballots- The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires States to administer absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before a federal election.  This act also extends rights to more than just uniformed service members. Their family, Merchant Marines, and U.S. citizens living outside of the U.S are also eligible to receive absentee ballots through UOCAVA.

4.       Provisional Ballots- Any person who arrives at the polls on Election Day and has their eligibility to vote questioned (this could be anything from forgetting your ID to administrative issues) has the right to fill out a Provisional Ballot. In most states, these provisional ballots are kept separate until after the election when a special committee determines whether the voter was actually eligible and if the vote should be counted or not.  The standards for handling provisional ballots are determined by state law.  


How Ballots Are Counted

According to federal law, all eligible ballots of all types must be counted. Traditional ballots are counted the day of the Election and can be used to mathematically “call” an election before counting has officially finished. This doesn’t mean counting stops. Eligible absentee ballots should be counted the day of as well; however, because of the uncertainty of postage it can take as long as ten days to count these votes. Even if a race has been called all votes MUST be counted, including provisional votes that have to be verified first. This means an election count may not be verified until two weeks after an election.


So what does this mean for Tuesday’s Election…

As of November 9th at 10pm, two Senate Races, two Governor races, and more than a dozen House races have not been decided because of razor thin margins and uncounted votes.  The National Spotlight has largely been on the governor races in both Georgia and Florida. To be clear, Candidate Abrams of Georgia is asking for all votes to be counted including absentee and provisional ballots that have still gone uncounted following various issues with the Georgia voting system her opponent Kemp was in charge of at the time of the election. Abrams tweeted today “I want to make something very clear: This fight isn’t about me. This fight is about making sure our democracy works for & represents everyone who has ever put their faith in it.”

 The Florida governor’s race, on the other hand, has hit mandatory recount range putting candidate Gillum back in the running even after conceding on Tuesday. President Trump tweeted today that it was an “embarrassment to our Country and to Democracy” to have candidates that have already conceded back in the running. By that logic, it is an embarrassment to this country to count every eligible vote that was cast when it questions the Republican Party.  To the contrary, candidates pushing for every vote to be counted shows a commitment to democracy and a respect for the voice of the people, which are the true democratic values of this country. Keep these definitions handy and arm yourself with knowledge at the polls. Your vote must remain unbought and unbossed.


Andreia Wardlaw