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Can You Change Your Vote? Probably Not.


Q: Can people who cast their ballots in early voting change their vote?

A: In most states, no. By our count, there are eight states that specifically allow for early voters to change their votes.  

FULL QUESTION
Can you change your vote once you’ve voted based on new information?
FULL ANSWER

In the final week before the election, President Donald Trump stirred up interest in the question, “Can I change my vote?”

Trump claimed in an early morning tweet on Oct. 27: “Strongly Trending (Google) since immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? This refers changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most important Election of your life!”

There had been some similar claims online before the tweet, but most searches for that question happened after the president tweeted about it.

However, contrary to the president’s tweet, it’s not true that “most states” allow voters to change their votes if they change their minds, and it’s an overstatement to say that the search was “strongly trending” before the president tweeted about it.

We’ll start with the claim about how many states allow voters to change their votes.

“Most states do not allow changes,” Michael Morley, a professor at Florida State University College of Law and an expert in election law, told us by email.

The National Conference of State Legislatures didn’t have a report on the rules in all 50 states. But Wendy Underhill, NCSL’s director of elections and redistricting, told us by email, “it is not easy to retrieve a ballot between the time it leaves the voter’s possession and the time it gets validated for counting.”

Since the U.S. operates on a secret ballot system, once an absentee, or mail-in, ballot is separated from the envelope that has the voter’s information, “the vote is then cast—no re-dos,” Underhill said.

We surveyed 50 states and Washington, D.C., to find out how many jurisdictions allow voters to change their votes. The results are below — including a map at the end of our list. (All voters should check with their local elections office for more information.)

For those states that had a broad rule allowing voters to replace a ballot with a new one, we answered Trump’s question, “yes.” For those that had no option or limited options (such as allowing in-person voting if a voter’s mail-in ballot was not received), we answered Trump’s question, “no.”

State Laws on Changing Ballots

Alabama: No. If a voter has submitted an absentee ballot, there is no option to change that vote, Grace Newcombe, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told us by phone.

Alaska: No.Voters cannot change their vote after they’ve voted,” Tiffany Montemayor, spokeswoman for the state Division of Elections, told us by email. She also said that not many voters had asked about the issue.

Arizona: No. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs posted a graphic on Twitter explaining, “Once you’ve turned in your ballot, you cannot change your vote.”

Arkansas: No. “Once a ballot has been submitted a voter can not change their vote,” Kevin Niehaus, spokesman for the secretary of state, told us by email.

California: No. “Californians cannot change their [votes] after they have cast their ballots,” Sam Mahood, spokesman for secretary of state, told us by email.

Colorado: No, except in limited circumstances. If a voter mails a ballot and it has not yet been received, the voter could then choose to vote in person instead — and invalidate the mail-in ballot, Denise Maes, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, told us in an email.

Connecticut: Yes, but the deadline has passed. Per legislation pertaining to this year’s election amid the pandemic, voters can withdraw a submitted mail-in ballot until 5 p.m. on Oct. 30, Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Connecticut secretary of the state, told us by phone. The voter could then choose to vote in person or request a new absentee ballot, he said.

Delaware: Yes, if ballot has not been processed. “The voter may inquire with their county election office about changing their ballot,” State Election Commissioner Anthony Albence told us by email. But it has to be done before the ballot is prepared for counting. “If the ballot is already being prepared for scanning and tabulation, it is too late for the voter to make a change,” he said.

Florida: No. The secretary of state’s office didn’t respond to our request for comment, but Morley, the professor at Florida State University College of Law, told us by email, “If you’ve requested an absentee ballot, but did not yet cast it, you can vote in person. If you did cast your absentee ballot, you can’t vote again, either in person or by requesting a second absentee ballot.”

Georgia: No. “If you request and return an absentee ballot, you cannot change your mind and vote in person,” according to the website for the secretary of state. “Once you return your absentee ballot, you have voted.”

Hawaii: No. “Once you return your ballot and [it] is received by the Clerk’s Office, it is considered cast and you will not be able to receive a new ballot,” according to the office of elections’ website.

Idaho: No, except in limited circumstances. If a voter has submitted an absentee ballot that has not yet been received by the county clerk, that person can cast an early vote if the county offers it. Not every county does. The “early vote” would replace the absentee ballot vote, according to the Idaho secretary of state’s office. Oct. 30 was the last day for early voting.

Illinois: No. “Once you mail or deliver your vote-by-mail ballot, there is no changing the ballot,” Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, told us by email.

Indiana: No. The secretary of state’s office “made it clear that in Indiana, once you cast your vote, you can’t go back and change it,” according to WTHR-TV, an NBC affiliate.

Iowa: No. “It is not allowed in Iowa,” Kevin Hall, spokesman for the secretary of state, told us by email.

Kansas: No. “Once your ballot’s in, you’re done,” Katie Koupal, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told us by phone. Most of the questions from voters on the issue have come from Sedgwick County, she said, where an incumbent county commissioner up for reelection was recently embroiled in a political scandal.

Kentucky: No. “Once your vote is in, your vote is in,” Miranda Combs, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told the Courier Journal of Louisville, Kentucky.

Louisiana: Yes. The secretary of state’s office oversees elections in Louisiana, but that office referred us to the attorney general. That office didn’t respond to our email or call, but Cory Dennis, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, told nola.com, “voters who have already completed and sent a mail ballot may request a replacement from their parish registrar of voters office. Replacement ballots must be returned by Monday at 4:30 p.m. to be counted in the presidential election.”

Maine: No. A voter can apply for a duplicate absentee ballot for certain specified reasons, according to state law. The list of reasons “does not include an applicant’s decision to change the applicant’s vote after the applicant has returned the ballot to the clerk,” according to the law.

Maryland: No. “No, you can’t do that here in Maryland,” Nikki Charlson, spokeswoman for the state Board of Elections, told us by phone.

Massachusetts: No. “If you mailed your early ballot back and it was accepted by your local election office, then your ballot is considered to be cast and you can’t vote again,” the secretary of state’s website says. But, in some limited circumstances, “If your ballot never reached your local election office, or if it was rejected for some reason, then you can vote in person.”

Michigan: Yes. “If a voter has already voted absentee and wishes to change their vote (because the candidate has dropped out of the race, or for any other reason), a voter can spoil their ballot by submitting a written request to their city or township clerk,” the Department of State website says. The request has to be received by 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election, if it’s sent by mail, though. It can be made in person at the clerk’s office until 10 a.m. on the Monday prior to the election.

Minnesota: Yes, but the deadline has passed. “You can ask to cancel your ballot until the close of business two weeks before Election Day,” the secretary of state’s website says. “After that time, you cannot cancel your ballot.”

Mississippi: No. Due to changes for the COVID-19 pandemic, the secretary of state announced, “Absentee ballots will now be the final vote, which means those who vote absentee may not appear on Election Day and cast a regular ballot.”

Missouri: No. “Changing a ballot after it has been cast is not provided for in state law,” Maura Browning, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told us by email.

Montana: No. “Once the ballot is received at the election office, the polling place, or a designated place of deposit, Montana does not allow voters to change their vote,” Susan Ames, of the Office of the Secretary of State, told us by email.

Nebraska: No. “Once a voter cast their ballot, they cannot change it later,” Assistant Secretary of State Cindi Allen told us by email.

Nevada: No.  An official for the state secretary of state’s office told us ballots could not be changed.

New Hampshire: Yes, if ballot has not been processed. If a voter has submitted an absentee ballot, but gets to the polls on Election Day before that ballot is processed, he or she can replace the absentee vote, David Scanlan, deputy secretary of state, confirmed to us.

New Jersey: No. If you have submitted your ballot to the Board of Elections, your vote has been cast and cannot be changed,” Alicia D’Alessandro, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told us by email.

New Mexico: No, except in limited circumstances. If a voter has mailed a ballot that isn’t received by Election Day, he or she can to go to a polling place and cast a ballot, according to the secretary of state’s website. It also says, “You will just need to sign an affidavit cancelling the mailed ballot you submitted.”

New York: Yes.Even if you request or cast and return an absentee ballot, you may still go to the polls and vote in person,” according to the Board of Elections website. “The Election Law recognizes that plans change. The Board of Elections is required to check the poll book before canvassing any absentee ballot. If the voter comes to the poll site, on Election Day or during early voting and votes in person, the absentee ballot is set aside and not counted.”

North Carolina: No. “Once you return your ballot, you may not change or cancel your ballot,” the State Board of Elections website says.

North Dakota: No. “It is a cast ballot once it is dropped in the mail,” the secretary of state’s office told us by phone.

Ohio: No. “Once a ballot has been cast, it cannot be changed,” Maggie Sheehan, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told us by email.

Oklahoma: No. “Once someone has submitted their ballot, that cannot be changed or altered,” Misha Moir, spokeswoman for the state election board, told us by phone.

Oregon: No. Once the ballot has been dropped in the mail or official drop box it is considered cast and cannot be changed,” Andrea Chiapella, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, told us by email.

Pennsylvania: No. “The option or mechanism for a ‘do-over’ vote was eliminated in the voting reform act, Act 77 of 2019,” Wanda Murren, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, told us by email. “If a voter has cast a mail ballot and then goes to the polling place and votes a provisional ballot, the mail ballot is the one that will be counted. Once a mail ballot is cast and received timely, that is the vote for that particular voter.”

Rhode Island: No. The Rhode Island Board of Elections told us by phone that voters in the state cannot change their votes once their ballots have been submitted.

South Carolina: No. “You can’t change your ballot in South Carolina once you return it to election officials,” Chris Whitmire, of the State Election Commission, told CBS affiliate WLTX.

South Dakota: No. “Voters can’t change their vote once their mail-in ballot has been received,” Cindy Mohler, auditor for Pennington County, told us by phone.

Tennessee: No. “No, once a voter has surrendered their ballot, they cannot change their mind,” Linda Phillips, administrator of elections in Shelby County, Tennessee, told us by email. “This policy is state law,” she said.

Texas: No. “Once a voter has submitted their ballot, they have voted. They cannot change their vote,” Stephen Chang, spokesman for the secretary of state, told ABC affiliate KBMT.

Utah: No, except in limited circumstances. If we have accepted a ballot after processing the return envelope, thereby giving them ‘credit’ for voting, then we separate the ballot from the envelope shortly after and count their vote. If a vote is at this stage, it cannot be changed,” Amelia Powers Gardner, Utah County Clerk/Auditor, told us by email. “However, a voter can call and request that we spoil their ballot if we have not counted it yet. Then they can cast another ballot by showing up at one of our ballot pick-up locations on Election Day and getting a replacement.”

Vermont: No. “A voter who has returned a voted early voter absentee ballot cannot change his or her mind and vote at the polls. Even if that ballot has not yet been counted, it is considered a voted ballot and cannot be retracted,” according to the secretary of state’s website.

Virginia: No. “People cannot change their vote after voting early or by absentee in Virginia,” a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Elections, told CBS affiliate WUSA.

Washington: No. “Once you submit your ballot, you cannot change your vote,” Hannah Kurowski, of the King County election office, told us by phone.

Washington, D.C.: No. “A DC voter cannot request to invalidate their ballot to submit a new one and change their vote,” Nick Jacobs, spokesman for the board of elections, told us by email.

West Virginia: No. The state’s code “does not explain this topic in such clear words,” Jennifer Gardner, spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office told us in an email. “Code says no person may open a ballot box until polls close. Also, it’s impossible to ‘find’ a cast ballot in a ballot box — even if it were permitted to be opened before polls close — because all ballots are anonymous once cast. For absentee voters, the law assumes those voters cannot vote in person on Election Day (or during early voting). The COVID exception is new for this election, allowing in-county voters who otherwise can vote in person during the period but choose not to. Nevertheless, the law does not contemplate the opportunity of re-voting after the ballot is cast. And, it follows, there is no procedure or permission for a county clerk or staff member to ‘spoil’ an appropriately cast absentee ballot, even if they have the ability to find it before polls close.”

Wisconsin: Yes. “Voters who have already returned an absentee ballot by mail may request in writing that their returned absentee ballot be spoiled so they can vote a new one,” the Wisconsin Elections Commission clarified in a press release Oct. 29. “Voters may appear in person at their clerk’s office until the end of in-person absentee voting hours and ask to have that ballot spoiled so the clerk can issue a new absentee ballot which can be voted in-person. Voters can also ask to have their returned absentee ballot spoiled and be issued a new one by mail, but those requests must be made by 5 p.m. on October 29.”

Wyoming: No. “No, once a ballot has been received by your Local County Clerk’s office, the ballot is considered voted,” the secretary of state’s website says.

Google Trends for Changing Votes

As for the claim that searches for the question were “strongly trending,” that’s misleading. The question didn’t break the top 20 searches for the day of the debate, Oct. 22, or any day since then, according to Google trends.

The first version of the claim we could find was from the day after the debate in a story published on a New Jersey-based conservative website. Similar claims were featured on some other conservative outlets, including a weekend politics show on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia.

They all cited Google Trends graphs that show the popularity of that question — or a similar question — over time.

There are a few important things to understand about those graphs, though. First, they aren’t showing actual search numbers. They are showing the relative popularity of the question over time. Second, they aren’t comparing the number of searches for that question to other Google searches. As we said, the graphs are only comparing that one search query to itself, at various points in time. Third, and most importantly, the graphs can look very different, depending on how the parameters are set.

For example, a graph with a tight timeframe, say, Oct. 17 to Oct. 25 — which covers the time shortly before the Oct. 22 debate and the days immediately after — shows what looks to be a rise in searches for that question right after the debate.

But if the search is extended to go from Oct. 1 to Oct. 25, for example, the Google Trends graph shows interest in the question for most of the month. There are spikes on Oct. 2, Oct. 10 and Oct. 20, and then again on Oct. 25, the day that the ultra-conservative Gateway Pundit published a story linking interest in the question to unsubstantiated claims about Hunter Biden. That story was shared on Facebook pages with a combined following of 1.9 million, according to data from CrowdTangle.

Extending that search to the end of the month shows that the most interest in that question in October came after Trump tweeted about it on Oct. 27.

So, it’s not true that the answer to, “CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE?” is “YES” in most states. And saying that that question was “Strongly Trending” on Google overstates its popularity.

Bala Thenappan, Angelo Fichera, Lori Robertson, Jessica McDonald, Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore and Alan Jaffe contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.

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