Not the Real Thing: Linn County, IA Voters Mistakenly Return Voted Sample Ballots

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With Election Day less than a month away, now is the time that election offices step up their efforts to let voters know what’s going to be on their ballots. But in Iowa’s Linn County (Cedar Rapids), several hundred voters mistook sample ballots for the real thing – actually voting and returning them. The Gazette has more:

Nearly 500 Linn County voters have confused a recently mailed sample ballot with the real thing.

Officials with the Linn County Auditor’s Office said Wednesday that, as of 5 p.m. Monday, 489 sample ballots mistakenly had been filled out and sent to the office. Of those, 44 lacked a return address. Auditor Joel Miller said in an email that the returned sample ballots did not include respondents’ names, so without names or addresses, those 44 individuals cannot be reached.

That’s out of 90,500 total sample ballots that were mailed to residents with the hopes of educating voters and boosting absentee ballot requests for the Nov. 6 election.

As of Tuesday night, the office had received 16,712 absentee ballot requests. Nearly 1,000 votes have been cast already between absentee ballots and early voting, which began Monday.

But officials have said the word “sample,” which was printed across each sample ballot, may have become faded during scanning and printing, making it difficult for some people to see.

What’s more, the sample ballot was mailed along with an absentee ballot request form and return envelope. Some made their choices on the sample ballots and used the return envelopes to send them back — a mistake, as these are not the authentic ballots.

The office has shredded the returned sample ballots and mailed individuals who supplied return addresses to notify them of the proper way to cast a ballot.

This seems like a careless error on the part of the voters, but it also speaks to the line election officials must walk in preparing voter education materials like sample ballots: wanting to ensure that they are sufficiently realistic and usable to be helpful to voters, but not so much so that there’s confusion about what’s real and what isn’t. Kudos to the auditor’s office for their quick action on reaching out to the affected voters – and here’s hoping those remaining 44 voters get the word before it’s too late to have a real vote – and a smile 😎

Stay tuned …

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