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Five vote-by-mail forms do not mean Illinois couple can get five ballots

August 8, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: An Illinois couple received five vote-by-mail applications at their address so they will be able to send them back and receive five ballots “with no one the wiser.” 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Before election officials mail out a ballot to a voter, they verify the voter’s signature on the ballot request form matches the voter’s signature on file. Anyone who engages in the illegal behavior described in the social media post would be guilty of a felony.

THE FACTS: A widely viewed photo on social media shows five envelopes marked as “Official Election Mail” from the Fayette County Clerk & Recorder’s office sent to five individuals at a single address. One post reads: “A husband and wife received 5 “vote by mail” ballot requests. They were unsolicited. All this couple has to do is fill them out, and mail them in. They will be sent 5 ballots. Two people will be able to cast 5 votes with no one the wiser.”

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But such a plan is unlikely to work, and is illegal.  

“If you attempt to mail back an application filling in someone’s name in order to get a ballot, you are committing a felony,” Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told the AP. “Not to mention the election authority is going to invalidate your application because they will compare the signature of the voter and notice it doesn’t match.”

Election authorities only mail ballots to voters after they verify the signature on the application matches the signature on file for the voter. 

When voters are ready to mail back completed ballots, Dietrich said they must sign a legal attestation on the envelope. Election judges verify the signature before the ballot is counted. He said it “is the same standard that is used when you vote in person.”

Dietrich said that Illinois voters have been voting by mail for years without problems. 

What is different this year is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Illinois registered voters are receiving ballot applications in the mail. A law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June requires election officials mail vote-by-mail applications by Aug. 1 to all registered voters who participated in the last three state-wide elections. 

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Illinois is one of several states expanding vote-by-mail options for the Nov. 3 election in light of the pandemic.

Dietrich said it is “not a surprise” that some addresses are receiving multiple applications for vote-by-mail ballots. The new law requires election authorities to send the forms to the “registered address and any other mailing address the election authority may have on file, including a mailing address to which a prior vote by mail ballot was mailed.”  

Outside organizations, including political parties, may also mail Illinois voters ballot request forms, which could result in voters receiving more than one ballot application. 

Dietrich said even if voters fill out multiple vote-by-mail applications, they will still only receive one ballot. Each voter has a unique voter ID number that is tied to a single ballot. “That’s something people need to understand, that this is very tightly controlled,” Dietrich said.

President Donald Trump has made unsubstantiated claims about fraud related to voting by mail and has floated delaying the election.

The photo circulated in this post originally appeared in an Aug. 3 post that was viewed more than five million times on Facebook. The author of the original post had suggested the photo showed he had received five ballots in the mail, rather than applications for ballots. The post has since been changed to state they were ballot applications.

Jessica Barker, the clerk for Fayette County, called the original post “misinformation” in an interview with the AP.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536