Fact check: Can you change your vote after it's been cast?
Posted October 30, 2020 11:26 a.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2020 12:22 p.m. EDT
CNN — President Donald Trump has spent much of the week before Election Day spreading disinformation about the voting process.
On Monday, he continued efforts to discredit mail-in ballots and claimed we "must have a final total by Nov. 3," which Twitter flagged as misleading and blocked users from seeing on their feeds. CNN has previously fact-checked similar comments: this is a misinterpretation of how the system works and an unrealistic expectation for 2020's pandemic-era election.
On Tuesday, Trump suggested voters can change their votes, tweeting: "Strongly Trending (Google) since immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? This refers changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most important Election of your life!"
Facts First: This is misleading at best. In "most" states, once your ballot has been cast, either in the mail or in person, you cannot change your vote.
In response to the President's tweet, CNN reached out to all 50 states about their policies regarding changing one's vote. All but five responded. Of those that did, all but six told CNN that voters are not allowed to change their votes. The remaining six -- Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Wisconsin -- provided information about processes they do have in place or provisions in state law which would allow someone to change their vote.
"For the most part, this is not allowed," Amber McReynolds, the former director of elections in Denver and now CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, a mail-balloting advocacy group, told CNN. "The standard practice is usually first ballot in the door. You can't change your mind after you submitted."
In some states, it depends on how they define submitted. For example, Gabe Rosenberg, communications director for Connecticut's secretary of state, told CNN voters in Connecticut cannot change their vote but a state statute allows those who voted by mail to withdraw their absentee ballot if they request to do so in person by 5 p.m. Friday at the latest. That ballot would then be invalidated and their vote not counted.
Voters could then request another absentee ballot or choose to vote in person. In theory, someone could vote for one candidate on the absentee ballot, change their mind, and then record their vote for another candidate. Rosenberg however insists that's not technically changing their vote because the initial choice was never recorded or counted.
Several states do have policies for people who may have received and filled out an absentee ballot but not yet dropped it off or put it in the mail and now wish to change their vote. In that case, some states allow voters to request a replacement ballot or vote in person instead and "spoil" or void the initial absentee ballot.
Others, like Texas, require voters to bring their spoiled ballot to a polling place and surrender it. And in New Mexico, for example, voters who requested an absentee ballot have to sign an affidavit stating that they don't intend to submit it in order to vote in person.
While this could technically allow someone to change what they may have filled out on an initial ballot, it is not quite the same as changing your vote.
"It's very difficult to change your vote once it's in the hopper," Wendy Underhill, director of Elections & Redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told CNN's Kelly Mena. "The deciding point is, has your first ballot been received and accounted for and if not, you may have a chance to go in and say: 'I want to do it differently.' "
However, a few states do clearly support a voter's ability to change their vote. Here are the details:
Michigan allows voters to invalidate or "spoil" their absentee ballot and receive a new one despite having already voted and returned it.
Voters have to request the new mail-in ballot before 5 p.m. on the Friday prior to the election or in person before 4 p.m. on the Monday prior to the election.
In Minnesota, "a voter with an accepted ballot may request to spoil their ballot and receive a replacement" until two weeks before the election. Usually, the request can be made up to a week before the election, but under the new policy due to Covid-19, voters would not be able to change their vote if they wished to do so following the President's tweet, given how close it was to the election.
In Wisconsin, voters can spoil their ballot twice if they make a mistake or change their mind, regardless of whether they're voting at a polling place or by mail. Those who have submitted an absentee ballot but want to change their vote must request a new ballot in writing or at the clerk's office in person until 5 p.m. on the Thursday before an election.
Once the initial ballot is spoiled, voters can go vote in person or request another absentee ballot. If the second or third ballot does not arrive at the clerk's office by Election Day, it will not be counted.
In New York, it depends on the method used to vote. Those who request and cast an absentee ballot can request another or vote in person to change their vote. However, if you vote in person early, that vote may not be changed.
In New Hampshire, the timing is critical. Someone could change their vote by voting in person before their absentee ballot has been processed because those are processed later in the day on Election Day. The state's deadline for absentee ballots to be received is 5 p.m. on Election Day.
In Delaware, if a voter wants to change their vote after already submitting their absentee or vote by mail ballot, they have to contact their county elections office. The county elections office will let the voter know if the ballot has already been processed or prepared for scanning and tabulation. If not, the voter could request to change their vote.