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VERIFY: Answering your top election questions, from filling out ballots to tracking your vote

Our Verify team has been answering all your questions on voting and filling out a ballot. Here's a masterlist.

WASHINGTON — The election is right around the corner, and confusion over filling out your ballot and making sure your vote is heard is rampant.

In an effort to clear up misinformation and help get you all the facts, our Verify team talked to dozens of researchers, experts and election officials for answers. Here's a look at some of your top questions:

Does it matter if I fill out my ballot in blue or black ink?

Black, blue or any dark-colored inks are preferable. But you won't have your ballot turned away if you use 

Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections confirmed that ballots are valid with any pen color or pencil.

Certain ink colors may not be able to be read by their scanners and in that case, Charlson said a “bipartisan pair of election officials” will copy the information to another ballot with a black ink pen, so that the ballot can be counted.

RELATED: VERIFY: Do you have to use a black ink pen on mail-in ballots in DC, Maryland and Virginia?

What is a provisional ballot, and why would I have to cast one?

It's a voting procedure that basically protects an eligible voter from being turned away at the poll.

There are several reasons a voter could be asked to cast a provisional or special ballot.

For example, if you're a registered voter and you show up to vote in your jurisdiction but an election official can’t find you in the poll book – you’ll be asked to cast a provisional ballot.

For more on provisional ballots and what they mean, click here.

What's the difference between an absentee ballot and mail-in ballot?

Mail-in ballots and absentee ballots are different, but only in one way.

Absentee ballots have to be requested by the voter to be mailed out. Mail-in ballots typically refer to states where the ballots are sent to all registered voters whether they requested one or not.

Bottom line: Regardless of their name -- all ballots are treated the same once they’re in the mail.

In 16 states, you must have a reason or “excuse” to request and receive an absentee ballot. Here's a look at that list.

RELATED: VERIFY: The difference between absentee ballots and mail-in ballots

What if I write '20' on my ballot instead of  '2020'?

So, what if you're in a hurry and write the shorthand for the year instead of the full 2020. Will it get rejected then?

Our Verify researchers took that claim to election officials across our region: the Maryland State Board of Elections, D.C. Board of Elections and Virginia Department of Elections. They say it’s not true. 

"No it would not be rejected," Jessica Bowman, Virginia Department of Elections deputy commissioner, said.

Officials in Maryland and D.C. agree.

"No, we are not in the business of trying to reject ballots...," Alice Miller, Executive Director of D.C.'s Board of Elections said. "We want people to vote, we want people to just sign their ballot and date it, obviously we need a date. It doesn't matter if it says 2020 or 20."

So we can Verify, this one is false.

What happens if I am registered in more than one state? How do officials track moves and where I am?

It is not a crime to be registered in multiple states. This typically happens when someone moves without informing their previous state. States regularly 'clean their rolls,' and when this happens, one will be removed from their past state.

Voting in multiple states, however, is a felony -- punishable by jail time and fines.

RELATED: VERIFY: Yes, it's legal to be registered to vote in multiple states. Here's one way officials track moves

Do I have to vote in every single race on my ballot for it to count?

Our researchers started by asking election officials in DC, Maryland and Virginia, who all confirmed that if you leave something blank, your ballot will still count.

"Voters can choose not to vote in some races; this does not affect the validity of a ballot," Jessica Bowman, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Elections said.

A spokesperson for the State Board of Elections in Maryland agreed. 

"You do not have to cast a vote on every race/question on your ballot in order for your ballot to count," they said.

"You don't have to complete anything, voters’ choice," Alice Miller, Executive Director at DC Board of Elections, said. "Some voters just want voter history, and voter history means that they participated in the election, they could choose to vote nothing or they can vote for as little or as much as they want on a ballot. That’s why you will see on the ballot it says vote for 'no more than' it doesn't say 'vote for two.' It says vote for 'no more than.'"

What if I have a stray marking on the ballot? Will it be discounted?

A poll worker may write on a ballot depending on precinct operations, but those markings will not automatically disqualify a ballot.

Whether you do or somebody else accidentally marks it, your ballot will still be counted.  Our Verify team talked to election officials for more.

In the District, the executive director for the DC Board of Elections agreed.

“Stray marks are not a problem on a ballot," they said, "The ballot will be counted."

What are some of the reasons my ballot might get rejected?

There are some reasons your ballot might get rejected. Here's the top three, according to data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent, bipartisan federal commission tasked with gathering information on election administration. 

  • Non-matching signatures
  • Ballot not received on time / missed a deadline
  • No voter signature

Here's more on the EAC and their results from the 2016 election.

I don't want to lick my ballot shut. Is it okay if I tape it?

Voting during a pandemic can cause even more reason to be precautious with how you cast your ballot. So does it matter if it's taped shut or licked?

Our team reached out to Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor at the non-partisan, voter advocacy foundation Democracy Fund. They monitor voting issues and voters' rights all over the United States.

"I am not aware of any state specifically using that as a cause for rejection," Patrick told us in an email. "Some do have 'evidence of tampering' as a flag for further review, so if it looked like the envelope was torn open and then taped up, it MAY qualify in some states as a cause."

That's likely where some confusion comes in.In some states, election officials may need to review. In DC, A Board of Elections official said the city will accept taped ballots, but offered the information that a taped ballot envelope will not process through their sorter, and requires more time to be manually processed.

RELATED: VERIFY: Your absentee ballot won't be automatically rejected if you tape it shut instead of licking it

Okay, so I dropped off my ballot in a drop box. Where does it go after I drop it off?

Elections are run by the states, which have different rules regarding ballot drop boxes. 

But elections experts, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, tell Verify they are not aware of any state or county that allows anyone other than elections staff to touch a ballot once it is placed in a ballot drop box.

There are plenty of secure measures in place to make sure your ballot makes it safely from a mail drop box and properly counted. 

We took an inside look from what those mail collection sites look like near the nation's capitol:

I mailed my ballot in. Is there a way to track my ballot?

RELATED: VERIFY: Yes, voters in DC, MD and VA can track their mail-in ballots

Wondering where your ballot went after you sent it off? There are ways to track where it goes, but it depends on the state and the county that you live in. For USPS mailed votes, it's a good idea to save tracking numbers to help keep tabs on it's whereabouts.

You can also check online at official state election websites to see if you can enter your information to an online portal that will let you know the status of your ballot.

Do you have more questions on voting and filling out your ballot? Email the Verify team!