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VERIFY: Here's why a Silver Spring family received two mail-in ballots, according to election officials

A Montgomery County man asked the Verify team to help him get answers, after receiving two mail-in ballots for the 2020 election. The board helped explain why
Credit: Eliana Block
Judi Sheffer holds up Jacob Sr.'s duplicate mail-in ballot. The ballot has a different seial number than the first ballot Jacob Sr. received.

WASHINGTON — The Sheffer family was looking forward to vote by absentee. Judi Sheffer, Jacob Sr. and their son Jacob Jr., all requested mail-in ballots

In late September, their ballots arrived. Then a few days, later a second mail-in ballot for Jacob Sr. showed up.

“And I was like, what’s different about them?" Judi said.  "Well what’s different about them, you probably can’t see it, it’s the number underneath the barcode. There were two different numbers on them.”

The Sheffers said they called the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

"They were like, ‘Oh, no no, we don’t even have the one that says ‘do not use.' We don’t even have that in our system, and we don’t know how you got two...," Judi said.

Credit: Eliana Block
Judi Sheffer holds up Jacob Sr.'s duplicate mail-in ballot. The ballot has a different seial number than the first ballot Jacob Sr. received.

"They’re both official ballots, and just one of them is bogus. So I don’t know how it happened or why it happened," Jacob Sr. said. He was also concerned that had he sent back the wrong one, his vote would not have been counted.

They asked us to Verify: why did Jacob Sr. get two ballots? 

Our Verify researchers started by contacting the Montgomery County Board of Elections. 

They wouldn’t speak with us specifically about this case, but they did confirm an explanation they sent to Jacob Sheffer Sr. via email. The Sheffer’s say they were told Jake requested two ballots.

RELATED: VERIFY: When are mail-in ballots counted in DC, Maryland and Virginia?

Credit: WUSA
Jacob Sheffer Sr. requested a mail-in ballot. Two arrived at his door, and he asked the Verify team to help him understand why.

Deputy Director Alysoun McLaughlin explained in the email, “The assumption, when you request a second ballot, is that the first one has been damaged or misplaced, so it is the second ballot that our system gives priority. To prevent you from returning both, and voting twice, we void the tracking number for the first ballot in our system.”

She also explained if Jake had sent back the first ballot, they have procedures in place that would have ensured it was still counted.

Jake and Judi say they don’t recall requesting the two ballots, but are satisfied with the explanation.

Montgomery County Board of Elections spokesperson, Gilberto Zelaya says there are a few ways you could end up with more than one ballot.

For example, you could make a duplicate request, or have multiple records in their registration database with small differences like an old address or middle name.

It could also happen with twins with the same or similar first name, or with juniors and seniors.

"Voter registration is a very active process, which means that...anytime you move, you get divorced, you get married, you want to change your party affiliation, and even if you move within the same apartment complex...we need to get that information from the voter," Zelaya said.

Next, our Verify researchers contacted officials at the Maryland State Board of Elections, D.C. Board of Elections and Virginia Department of Elections to find out what you should do if you get more than one ballot in the mail.

RELATED: VERIFY: Here's what you should do if you receive more than one ballot in DC

In Maryland, you should use the one most recently received.

"If more than one ballot is issued to the same voter, it is because a voter requested more than one ballot," a spokesperson for the State Board of Election wrote via email. 

"For example, a voter might send in the application that was mailed to eligible voters and then also request a ballot online," they continued. "When a second ballot is issued for a particular voter, the system automatically invalidates the previous ballot to ensure each voter can only vote once."

In Virginia, call your general registrar’s office, and in the District, write ‘duplicate’ on one of the ballots and use the other one to vote.