In October 2020, a piece of text supposedly written by a person who had just “finished poll manager training” was copied and pasted across social media. The text warned readers to be on the lookout as they cast their votes in the upcoming presidential election for poll workers who might write something on their ballots such as a star, a checkmark, a letter, etc. This, according to the viral message, would invalidate their vote.
One popular early version of this text claimed that this recently trained poll manager was stationed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:
****Myrtle Beach Pay Attention*** Just finished Poll Manager training! I passed all the classes. I want you all to know something…if you are checking in at the polls and they happen to write anything on your ballot…a letter, a checkmark, a star, any writing of any kind…please request a new ballot. Your ballot will not be counted if it is written on. Please be on the lookout for this type of behavior. I know someone in Myrtle Beach who asked me about this during the primaries and I did not understand what it might have meant. Now I know. It disqualifies your ballot. BE ON GUARD!!!
This claim, in general, is unfounded. Poll workers have practically no reason to mark ballots, and in the rare instance where they might, this would not invalidate a person’s vote.
A spokesperson for the Maryland State Board of Elections provided a similar statement, explaining that poll workers in that state would have little reason to ever mark (or even be momentarily in possession of) a person’s ballot, but if it did occur, it would not invalidate that person’s vote. The spokesperson also explained some of the security measures that are in place to ensure a person’s vote gets counted:
A poll worker should never have possession of a voter’s voted ballot. If a poll worker ever did have a voter’s voted ballot and made a mark, it would not disqualify the ballot. It’s possible that the mark could impact the ballot’s ability to be scanned, but the voter would be present when the scanner rejected it and the voter would be issued a replacement ballot to vote.
The only time a poll worker may write on a voted ballot is if the voter made a mistake on the ballot and needed a replacement ballot. The poll worker instructs the voter to “overvote” every contest on the ballot and write “Spoiled” on the ballot, but if the voter didn’t write “spoiled” on the ballot, the poll worker may need to write it. This is unlikely to occur as the poll worker is with the voter and instructing the voter on each step.
A spokesperson for Maine’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions told us: “The State of Maine does not reject ballots because of a stray mark on the ballot.”
North Carolina’s representative also confirmed that a poll worker writing on a person’s ballot would “absolutely not” cause that vote to be rejected. However, it is commonplace (in fact, it’s required), for a poll worker to mark a ballot. The spokesperson explained that poll workers in North Carolina must write the voter’s “one-stop” number on their ballot, saying:
In North Carolina, poll workers must write the voter’s one-stop (OS) number on the ballot. This is part of the process in NC that allows us to retrieve ballots if challenged, etc. They also write the voter’s precinct on the ballot so that one-stop early voting ballots can be sorted back into the proper precincts after the election for reporting and data purposes. Early voters can cast their ballot at any early voting site in their county.
In short, this text does not appear to have originated with a person who recently completed poll-manager training, and the vast majority of people sharing this message are doing so without any firsthand knowledge of this issue. It should also be noted that poll workers have practically no reason to write on a person’s ballot. In the rare circumstance where it is warranted, this would not invalidate a person’s ballot.