Don't be Rejected

Don't be Rejected

11 Ways to Avoid Getting Your Vote-by-Mail Ballot Rejected

Are you voting by mail for the first time this year?  It's the safest way to go as far as viruses go, but it's a whole new experience, with some possible problems along the way. Here's some advice to help you avoid invalidating your precious vote. 

1. Sign the envelope before you send it

Ballots in envelopes with no signature are automatically rejected. It happens hundreds of times in every election.

Sign your mail-in ballot envelope

Look at the back of the envelope (where you will seal it). Be sure to:

  • find the spot where it asks for your signature

  • Using only blue or black ink:
    • Sign it
    • Write in the address at which you are registered to vote
    • Date it


2. Fill in your Ballot using only BLUE or BLACK ink



Black or Blue. It says so right in the instructions on the ballot. Believe them, it matters.

Ink Pen, not markers or highlighters.

Ballot Ink Color InstructionsFill in the entire oval.
No X’s or 's
Oh, and NO red ink.  



Don’t lose your vote over the wrong pen! 

BTW, if you make a mistake, you can get a new ballot. Anytime on or before Tue Oct 27 2020, go online and request a replacement ballot.


3. Put your return envelope in a Ballot Collection Box BEFORE 8:00pm on Tuesday, November 3rd

Ballot Drop BoxYou do not have to MAIL your mail-in ballot!

There are official Ballot Collection Boxes (Drop Boxes) all over Santa Clara County, and you can drop your ballot off in any of them. (Find them HERE) 24 hours a day starting Oct 5th. BTW, there are three in Cupertino and six in Sunnyvale.

Ballot Boxes are already open 24/7. However, they will be emptied for the last time at 8:00 pm on November 3rd 2020, the same time the polls close. Any ballot dropped in after that will not be counted.



4. Match how you sign the envelope to the
signature on file with your voter registration­­ 

Your signature on the envelope will be checked against the one in your registration file. It's got to be close. Two things to check:

    1. If you’re not sure what your official registration signature looks like, look at your driver’s license or state ID.  For most people that's what's on file, so make sure your ballot envelope signature looks close to that signature.Make sure your signature matches
    2. Your name is pre-printed on the return envelope, just below where they ask you to sign.  Check it. 
      That is your official name in the voter roster. It’s probably the name you signed when you registered.
      If it says “Robert,” you probably shouldn’t sign as “Bob.”  If it shows your middle initial, use it in your signature. 


5. Put your ballot in the right envelope 

First - Only use the special return envelope that came with your ballot. No other envelope will be accepted.

Second - If you live alone, and you use the envelope provided, ignore the following . . .
BUT, if there's more than one voter in your home, everyone needs to know this:

Match Ballot Code to Envelope Code
    • Every mail-in ballot comes with a return envelope that has a code number on it that must match the number on the matching ballot sheets.

      Sometimes members of the same household accidentally mix up their election materials and return their ballot sheets in another household member’s envelope. That invalidates your ballot!

    • Double check to make sure the code number on your ballot sheets match the code number on your return envelope.


6. Never have anyone else sign the envelope
that your ballot went into

Yes, people have done this. Don't.

First, it’s against the law for someone else to sign your ballot. You must sign, in your own handwritting. (see #4 above)

Signature in Your Own Handwriting
Second, their signature will never match the one on file for you (see #4 again).  


Sign your own envelope for your own ballot. Make your vote count.


7. Mail your Ballot well before Friday, October 30th

Using the US Mail to send your ballot is convenient. You can be anywhere in the country and send your ballot by mail.

But if you're going to mail it, you need to send it early enough.  It has to be postmarked by 11/3/2020, and received within 17 days (by 11/20/2020)

Where's My Ballot App Logo



Sign up to Track your Ballot! 


Remember this: Postmarks are not instant. The postmark is not applied at the post box and may not even be applied in the same ZIP code. Usually it's grouped and sent to a Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) where the postmark is applied.

As an example, let's say the pickup time, listed on the card at your neighborhood mailbox, is 3pm weekdays.

  • You mail your ballot at 4pm on Friday, 10/30/2020 (or over the weekend)
  • Your ballot won’t be picked up until 3pm on Monday.
  • If anything goes wrong on the way to or through the P&DC, the postmark might not be applied by your deadline, which is Tuesday, 11/3/2020 at 8pm, even though you dropped it in the mailbox well ahead of time.
  • Your ballot will be rejected, even though you dropped it in the mailbox four days before the postmark deadline, and even though the date you wrote in was 10/30/2020, because the postmark was too late.



8. Don't send in an empty envelope

Yes, it happens. But there’s an easy way to check if your ballot is in the envelope before you make this mistake and lose your vote.

Check the Holes before you seal the envelopeThere’s a pair of holes in the back of the envelope. they're on either side of where you sign.

They are there so you can check that your ballot is in the envelope as you sign and before you seal it.

Check the holes. 


9. Put only one ballot in an envelope

If you live alone, this error probably won't happen to you.

BUT, if there's more than one voter in your home, sheets of pages from other people's ballots can accidentally get mixed up. Sheet B of my ballot may end up in your envelope, and the reverse. That can invalidate both our ballots!

Do this, just to be safe:

Match Ballot Code to Envelope Code

  1. Make a separate stack of sheets for each code number. Check the code numbers on every sheet of every mail-in ballot. Make sure they all match

  2. Check that each stack has all the ballot sheets (and no extras).
    Ballot sheets are "numbered" at the top corners of each page using letters, starting with A

  3. Match the ballot stack's code number with the code number on a return envelope

  4. Take your ballot stack and matching envelope, make sure you've voted, stuff the envelope, sign, date, and seal it 

  5. Take it to a Drop Box or a Vote Center anywhere in Santa Clara County, or mail it if you have enough time.

  6.  Track your Ballot   Where's My Ballot App Logo


10.Write the Date that you put the Ballot into
the envelope on the outside of the envelope

I know it seems stupid to require you to write the date on the envelope. Isn't that what the postmark's for?

But up to 30% of mailed ballots received from the U.S. postal service have post marks that are either missing or unreadable. So the date you write down could be the only proof that you voted on time.

Date the Envelope

Write the date as
below your signature on the return envelope. 


11. After you send your ballot, check your
U.S. mailbox daily through November

If any of the previous 10 problems (or others) happen, you will get a letter (yes, a real, in the US mail, aka snail-mail, PAPER LETTER) from the County Registrar of Voters, telling you:

    • the reason your ballot was rejected,
    • how you can fix the problem,
    • the deadline for getting that done (it will be a VERY SHORT time)

So, after you send off your mail-in ballot: 

  1. Where's My Ballot App Logo   Go to Where’s My Ballot and sign up to get updates on your ballot's status by text, email, and/or phone call

  2. Start checking your mailbox every day for any letter from the Registrar of Voters. The letter could come anytime up through late November.  If you get one, Respond Immediately! 

While mail-in ballots can't be counted until election night, they can be checked for errors starting a week before, so you could be contacted before election night if, for instance, there's no signature on your envelope.  

Since county elections officials are required by law to turn in the results of the ballot count by the 31st day after the election, all rejections must be resolved before December 4th. 

 graphic used to mark separation of sections

Many thanks to the excellent article by John Wildermuth in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the study by the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, which inspired this article. Any errors here contained are purely my own: Marilyn Sherry, League of Women Voters of Cupertino-Sunnyvale, California, October, 2020.