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Hackers unlikely to cancel your vote with replacement ballot. Here’s how the elections office prevents it

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 20, 2020

Psst: Did you hear that your vote could be voided if someone else uses your name and date of birth to request a replacement ballot? If you did, you should know one more thing: It’s highly unlikely.

Some Washington voters who spend time on 4Chan, an online bulletin board, or read a story on the pro-Trump website Gateway Pundit may have seen some warnings about that in the past few days.

Nefarious vote fraudsters reportedly could enter your name and date of birth online to get a replacement ballot that could be printed out and sent in, anonymous posts on 4Chan claim. That would mean the ballot you mark and send in would be canceled and the hacker’s choices counted.

While Gateway Pundit reports it only as a possibility, Washington election officials say it really isn’t, although directions on the state website can be interpreted to suggest it is.

The page that explains how to get a replacement ballot carries the warning that making such a request could lead to cancellation of the ballot sent you.

“The term we use is cancellation. You could say ‘Put on hold,’ ” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.

The key thing that thwarts fraudulent voting suggested by anonymous 4Chan posters is the signature check. Someone can determine your date of birth from any number of sources, but would be unlikely to match your signature, which is checked by election workers who compare every signed ballot envelope with the signature on file.

Here’s how it would work under different scenarios:

  • You mark and return your ballot in the properly signed envelope, it arrives in the elections office and is processed. Someone sends in a replacement ballot with your name later; it’s not processed because the computer says you already voted.
  • You mark and return your ballot in the properly signed envelope and send it in, but someone else requests a replacement ballot using your name and date of birth that arrives before yours at the elections office. The signature with the replacement ballot won’t match your signature on file and will be set aside so you can be contacted to verify the signature. If your ballot comes in with a signature that matches the file, it will be counted, the other one won’t.
  • Someone requests a replacement ballot using your name and birthdate before you return the ballot the county sent you. The signature on the replacement ballot doesn’t match, the ballot is set aside and you get contacted for a signature verification. You tell the elections office you haven’t returned your ballot yet, send it in, they verify your signature is correct and count that ballot.
  • You mark and return your ballot and someone else prints out and sends in a replacement ballot. You forget to sign your ballot envelope or your signature has changed so much it doesn’t match the file. Both are set aside, the elections office sends you a signature verification form and matches it to your ballot.
  • You don’t fill out your ballot, but someone prints out a replacement ballot, marks it and sends it in. The signature won’t match and you’ll be sent a signature verification form. You might tell them you haven’t voted, or ignore the verification. In either case, the ballot won’t be counted.

One other possible scenario not connected with fraud: You mark your ballot and sign the envelope but set it aside and lose track of it. As Nov. 3 nears, you print out a replacement ballot, mark and mail it in properly signed. On Election Day you find the original ballot, worry that the one you mailed won’t be postmarked in time and put the original in a drop box before 8 p.m. The elections office will process and count the one that arrives first.

The signature verification process is also a check on ballots sent to an old address where a voter has died or moved but the registration rolls haven’t been updated. While it’s possible that someone could mark and return that ballot – it’s a felony, but people often don’t know or don’t think they’ll be caught – the signature won’t match and the ballot won’t be counted.

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