Can You Fill Out Your Absentee Ballot With Red Ink?

Ohio boards of elections ask that you fill out your ballot using a blue or black pen, as light-colored ink might not be picked up by the processing machines. Ballots with red ink will be recreated by a bipartisan team of election staff members. [Aldona90 / Shutterstock]
Ohio boards of elections ask that you fill out your ballot using a blue or black pen, as light-colored ink might not be picked up by the processing machines. Ballots with red ink will be recreated by a bipartisan team of election staff members. [Aldona90 / Shutterstock]
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Red ink, torn pages, coffee stains - when it comes to accidental markings on absentee ballots, board of elections officials have pretty much seen it all, said Brian Mead, director of Licking County’s Board of Elections.

A listener from Licking County wrote to ideastream that he accidentally marked his absentee ballot with red ink. All Ohio boards of elections ask voters to use black or blue ballpoint pen because dark ink is easier for the voting machines to pick up. “Is red OK, or do I need a new ballot?” the listener asked.

There is no need to fill out a new ballot, Mead said. Every year, ballots come in with light-colored ink, or with rips and stains, he said. Before a ballot goes through the processing machine, staff members have to tear off the stub, which is when they will notice that someone marked up the ballot with red ink. 

When that happens, a bipartisan team of election staff members recreate the ballot using a new, blank ballot, Mead said. That ballot is then processed and counted.

This is the standard procedure for all boards of elections across the state, Mead said.

Boards of elections also receive ballots where bubbles are checked off, rather than filled in completely, he said. They have also received ballots where a person filled in a bubble, then crossed it out and filled in a different bubble, Mead said. In both cases, officials must recreate the ballots.

“We normally recreate about 200 ballots an election,” he said. More than 20,000 people have voted absentee in Licking County for recent elections, and Mead expects about 40,000 will this year due to the pandemic.

Election officials also have to recreate ballots that come in from overseas voters so that they are in the same format as regular absentee ballots, Mead said.

“[Overseas voters] print off a PDF, so it’s on regular paper. So that it can be counted, we have to recreate the ballot as well,” he said.

Mead assures voters who may have sent in ballots with accidental markings that their vote will still be counted. “It sounds scary, but it really is not,” he said.

Still, he encourages voters to follow directions and be as diligent as they can when filling out their ballots so that they can be processed as efficiently as possible, he said.

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