The 2020 presidential election is likely going to come down to a few thousand votes in a handful of states. If you’re a voter in one of them, you might be eager to know whether your ballot will be counted in the total that might decide the race.
Right now, most of what’s still left to be counted are mailed or absentee ballots. Pennsylvania still has to count hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes because the state could not begin processing mail ballots until Election Day. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina are still tabulating ballots in close races.
Beyond these swing states pivotal to the Electoral College, there are still millions more absentee ballots to be counted. Those will change the popular vote tally in the coming weeks (mostly thanks to California) and the margins of victory in some states, but probably won’t determine who becomes president.
But every vote should be counted, and as much as it might be nice if Nevada could speed things up, the process takes time, and for good reason. Mail-in ballots take longer to process — envelopes to open, signatures to check — and tabulate. Also, in many states, officials give voters opportunities to correct, or “cure,” their ballots, usually for mismatched or missing signatures.
Not all ballots can be cured; ballots that arrive past the deadline, for example, will be rejected. But at least 18 states require election officials to contact voters if there’s a problem with their ballot and give them a chance to correct it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states have adopted new procedures to cure ballots starting with this election.
If you’ve been tracking your ballot (which you can do in most places, so find your state elections website and check there), and you discover your ballot has been rejected, check your state elections page for options, or, if you can’t find the information there, contact your local election officials. (Look that up here, but remember: To say these people are busy is an understatement, so you may have to wait or try a few times.) Do this as soon as possible, since states typically offer a limited window to correct signatures.
But in those swing states where the margins are tight and getting tighter, every single ballot matters a lot more. It may not be the difference in a race (hopefully, for everyone’s sake, not), but every vote still counts.
With that, here’s how to fix your ballot in some of the key remaining states — though we’re probably not going to be much help on Pennsylvania.
Cure deadline: Tuesday, November 10
In Arizona, voters can check the status of their ballot here. If a voter submits a mail-in ballot and officials determine the signature doesn’t match, they are required to make a “reasonable” effort to contact the voter and tell them how that might be corrected.
Obviously, “reasonable” leaves a lot open to interpretation; the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office has said voters should put their phone number on their voter registration file for this reason.
If election officials don’t have your information, or you were not contacted and you see that your ballot was not accepted for some reason, call your local election office, which you can find here. Arizona gives voters five business days after any federal election to correct their signatures, which means voters have until Tuesday, November 10.
One thing to note: Arizonians can fix mismatched signatures, but if voters forgot to sign their ballots, they no longer have the chance to correct that.
Cure deadline: Friday, November 6
In Georgia, voters can cure an absentee ballot if there is a signature missing or if the signature doesn’t match the one on file. In those circumstances, the county is required by law to promptly notify the voter in the easiest way possible, which would be by either email or cellphone if it’s available, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
Voters can also cure provisional ballots — that is, if you had to cast a provisional ballot at your polling place on Election Day because of an ID or registration issue, you must provide valid documentation by that same Friday deadline to have it possibly count.
Georgia voters can track the status of their ballot and see whether it’s been received and accepted here. Again, in Georgia, county officials are supposed to notify voters if their ballots are fixable. However, if your ballot has been rejected and you haven’t been contacted, or you don’t have an updated email or phone number attached to your registration, then follow up with your local election office, which you can look up here.
Cure deadline: Thursday, November 12
Nevada voters can track the status of their ballots here. Election officials in Nevada are supposed to notify voters if their ballot has been rejected for a missing or mismatched signature, and voters have until seven days after the election to remedy any issues, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Vox reached out to the Nevada secretary of state, and we’ll update if we hear back, but we figure they’ve got a lot of stuff going on.)
All the same caveats apply, though. Nevada officials are supposed to contact voters, but if you have any concerns, reach out to your local election officials here.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Nevada’s secretary of state’s office reported approximately 3,400 ballots statewide that still require a signature cure; ballots belonging to registered Democrats, registered Republicans, and other or nonpartisan voters each accounted for about a third of those outstanding ballots. The state has successfully cured more than 4,600 ballots so far.
Cure deadline: Thursday, November 12
North Carolina’s procedures were the subject of some litigation, but the latest guidelines were issued October 17. According to North Carolina’s State Board of Elections, if a voter returns a ballot envelope with a problem, including if it isn’t signed or is signed in the wrong place, or if it’s missing the printed name or address of a witness or assistant (if a voter got help filling out the ballot), the county board is supposed to send that voter a certification to sign and return.
The good news is that North Carolina doesn’t do signature verification, so as long as the ballot is signed and appears to be the name of the person voting, then even if it’s your terrible credit-card-keypad scrawl, it should count.
County officials are supposed to contact voters within one business day to fix it, but again, caveats apply: Get the status of your absentee ballot here, and if you need to contact your local officials, look them up here. (Vox reached out to the North Carolina Board of Election, and we’ll update if we get any additional guidance.)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided in October that the state didn’t need to require signature matching after Republicans challenged the rule, so the state isn’t going to be tossing ballots if signatures don’t match — which will likely cut down on the number of possible rejected ballots overall.
The Pennsylvania secretary of state’s office said before Election Day, in an email to Vox, that if any voter had their absentee ballot rejected for something like a missing signature or naked ballot (if voters don’t use the outer “secrecy” envelope), they should vote by provisional ballot.
Election officials in Pennsylvania are supposed to decide on the validity of provisional ballots within seven days after Election Day; according to the secretary of state’s office, that provisional ballot will be counted as long as the voter is eligible. (Vox reached out to Pennsylvania’s secretary of state for additional information, and we’ll update if we hear back.) And, as a reminder, you can check on your ballot status here and contact your local election office if you have any questions.
Republicans, in a few lawsuits, are trying to challenge these cure procedures in an attempt to disqualify ballots cast by voters who were trying to fix errors. Republican lawyers are basically arguing that these cure processes are invalid because there’s nothing in the law that says they’re allowed. In one lawsuit, in Montgomery Country, GOP lawyers are alleging that the cured ballots should be disqualified because other counties didn’t follow similar procedures, a violation of the equal protection clause. How many ballots this might affect if any of these lawsuits prevail is not really clear, but it’s not certain any of these challenges will prevail.