Absentee Ballots
October 14, 2004 7:38 AM   Subscribe

When I filed my absentee ballot yesterday, the clerk insisted that my father and I vote in pencil... (more inside)

She said dem's da rules, we even signed across the seal of the envelope in pencil. Now, I honestly can't remember how it went the last time I voted, and we just moved to rural, western Maine so maybe things are different here.

I went to extreme lengths to darken my boxes so it would be obvious if someone tried erasing, but that's my point. Why do we vote in pencil? Do we normally? Should I be concerned about my vote (beyond voting absentee, obviously)? My father seemed unfazed, but he's sort of trusting. Since I'm back at university in Canada, I can't trot back to the town office and ask someone official myself. Any comments?
posted by nelleish to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I voted by absentee ballot the other day and the instructions for mine said you could vote in pen or pencil. This was for Georgia. Were there written instructions provided with your absentee ballot?
posted by hazyjane at 7:44 AM on October 14, 2004

i think it has to do (maybe?) with the ballot being machine read. i know in my area, before the went to electronic (shutters) voting, we had "complete-the-arrow" type ballots, that were then machine read.
posted by ShawnString at 8:01 AM on October 14, 2004

Response by poster: All it said was "If you make a mistake, DO NOT ERASE. Please ask for another ballot." I guess that implies we are supposed to vote in pencil and she handed us those golf pencils without erasers anyway. It's just important to me that it gets counted the way I voted, y'know? Not just for the presidential election, Maine has two pretty contentious state issues on the same ballot.
posted by nelleish at 8:02 AM on October 14, 2004

Mine (MD) said to use #2 pencil only (grade school flashbacks!) on the ballot, but had no such instructions for the envelope signature, which I did in pen. I'm pretty sure it was the same last time, and in the primaries, but now that I think about it, it probably isn't the most secure way of doing things.
posted by transient at 8:03 AM on October 14, 2004

Response by poster: ShawnString - What she said implied to me that they hand count (making me doubly nervous). When I questioned about pencils, she said "Votes are in pencil, and when we count have to tally on our sheet with red pen. It's a long night."

Pencil would certianly make sense if they are machine read. I hadn't thought of that. It would have made me feel better if she had just said "we have to put them through the machine." I'm going to say that's the answer and try to stop worrying :/
posted by nelleish at 8:16 AM on October 14, 2004

I just filled out my absentee ballot for Vermont [they hand count here, I bet they do in most of Maine as well] and I could fill it out with whatever I wanted... I hope.
posted by jessamyn at 8:48 AM on October 14, 2004

Another reason to use pencil (but most certainly not THE reason they're using pencil) is that if the ballots were soaked in water, pen would run but pencil stays put. So, if the sprinkler system went off, your vote is safe!
posted by nprigoda at 8:48 AM on October 14, 2004

Best answer: There are certain machine readers and overlays that work much better with pencil than pen. For example, the SAT has to be filled out with a pencil; there are other standardized tests for classroom use that the students fill out with pencil, then the teacher corrects them with a clear plastic "answer key" overlay.

Another possible reason is this: If people are allowed to fill things out in "pen", some people will use felt-tip pens and even pens are more like markers (the Flair pen or similar) which will bleed through the paper and make it hard to tell which squares are supposed to be filled in.

They will do this even if you clearly specify that they must use a ballpoint pen. I don't know why they do this, but they do. You can write "Fill this out in ballpoint pen only" on every page of a form and you will still get some back with big red smeary felt-tip writing on them.

If you say "use only pencil", however, you avoid this problem entirely.

If you are still anxious about this, I would suggest calling the Elections Division at the Secretary of State's office: (207)624-7650 .
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:21 AM on October 14, 2004

Hrmm, is it possibly a separation issue? If the counters are only permitted to have red pens, and all the ballots have been marked in pencil, there's no possibility of the counters remarking any ballots, filling in missed blanks, etc, because the difference would be noticed.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:25 AM on October 14, 2004

Cumberland County uses machines to read ballots. Last time I voted, I had to use a marker. Seems weird to use pencil, but poeple are pretty honest here, so I'm sure your vote is safe.

Welcome to Maine. Thanks for voting.
posted by theora55 at 10:51 AM on October 14, 2004

Seems to me after the US expereience with automated voting machines (DieBold, Hanging Chads) you'd *welcome* a hand count of votes. Why the animosity towards that method?

Suggestions that it's due to possible subverting of the vote will be met with links to the monkey vs. DieBold machine experiment.
posted by shepd at 11:18 AM on October 14, 2004

Mine was pencil only as well.

The reason is the same as those stupid tests in school: the machine readers use light to reflect off the marks. #2 lead reflects the right amount. #1 or #3 or any other lead doesn't. Nor does pen ink.
posted by MrAnonymous at 12:33 PM on October 14, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, it really does make sense. I honeslty don't know why I didn't think of that myself. I've stopped worrying!

theora55: I'm from Maine, this is just a new town for my family, we finally fled the tourist-infested coast is all. I'm voting on 1 and 2 with plenty of background, I promise!
posted by nelleish at 9:24 PM on October 14, 2004

In every election in Australia, I have had to use pencil to cast my votes. We number boxes in order of preference, and our votes are hand-counted at the end of the night.

Result? No vote-counting scandals, no vote-tampering corruption. Seems you US types could learn a thing or two about having a) hand-counted votes, and b) a consistent voting system across all states.

(Good luck in Nov, btw).
posted by chronic sublime at 1:19 AM on October 15, 2004

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