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Double Trouble: How States Keep People From Voting Twice

By Wendy Underhill  |  September 10, 2020

In the last few days, we’ve noticed a rare interest in how states keep people from voting twice.

We don’t have the answer down to the finest degree—and that’s in part because each state has its own laws and procedures, so there are at least 50 different answers. The most important thing we can say is that each state’s election director does know in minute detail how their state keeps people from voting twice in the same election in their state. Here’s a list of all of them.

We can provide generalities, though. In general, the reason it is hard to vote twice in the same state for the same election is that states keep a record of who has voted. The first ballot that is recorded from a given voter gets counted and that precludes them from voting again. 

Let’s say someone drops off or otherwise returns an absentee ballot. Once the voter’s information on the outside of the absentee ballot envelope is verified, it is standard practice to mark the voter’s registration file with the fact that that person has voted.

If that person then shows up at the polls, the poll book will show that she or he already voted absentee. If the voter insists on voting in person, a provisional ballot will likely be used, which is put in an envelope with the voter’s information on the outside. After the fact, the data will be reviewed, and only the first-recorded ballot would be counted.

On the flip side, if a person votes in person and then a voted absentee ballot from them later arrives at the election office, the in-person vote would already be recorded and the absentee ballot would be rejected. That voter shouldn’t be surprised to receive a letter from election officials asking why two ballots were cast—even though only one was counted.

Maybe the real question is, how can voters tell if their voted absentee ballots have been received, verified and counted? On our everything-you-might-like-to-know-about absentee/mail voting resource, Voting Outside the Polling Place, we’ve got a section on Returning an Absentee Ballot.

We answer the question, “Which states have systems for voters to track their absentee ballots?” We say “at least” 19 states have such systems. It may be more by now, so if your state has a ballot tracking option and we don’t have it listed, please let us know! And even if your state doesn’t, a voter can call their local election official and confirm that way. 

If you’ve read this far, you might be interested in the Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud database. Most duplicate voting cases are for people who voted in two states. We have a webpage for that!

Wendy Underhill is the director of NCSL’s Election and Redistricting Program.

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