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Know to Vote: How to correctly complete your absentee mail ballot to have your vote counted

Not having a proper witness signature is the most common reason a mail ballot is rejected, along with not signing it yourself, or returning it after the deadline.

If you're not voting early or on election day, you may be one of the thousands of people voting absentee by mail this election.

As of Monday, a spokesman for Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said his office has received 210,368 requests for absentee mail ballots to date. That's nearly three times the number requested for the 2016 presidential election. 102,433 ballots have already been completed and returned.

The criteria for eligibility for mail ballots was greatly expanded due to the coronavirus pandemic, adding those at high risk for the disease or those who are caring for a COVID-19 patient, in addition to all voters over the age of 65.

The Secretary of State produced a video explaining how to properly fill out an absentee ballot. The video is a sign that they realize voting by mail is new to many people.

The printed instructions on the ballot help explain the process, but Ardoin spoke to WWL-TV about some common mistakes voters make.

“Make sure you make very clear marks on each office that you're voting for,” he said. “Make sure you are clearly looking at the one particular office at a time. There may be multiple columns, for example, for president. Most people don't realize there's eleven candidates running for president on the ballot in Louisiana. So make sure you don't mark every column. Make sure it's per office. Because if you mark every column, you're going to end up losing your vote if it’s not caught.”

Ardoin stressed the importance of signing the ballot and having a witness sign the ballot as well.

“And then that goes into an envelope and it's sealed and all that information is hidden inside that envelope,” he added.

Because of concerns over delays with the U.S. Postal Service, Ardoin reminds voters that absentee ballots can be dropped off at parish Registrar of Voters offices.

“I would say if you're less than seven days out from the election, don't use the Postal Service. Go ahead and drop your ballot off at any of the Registrar’s office locations in the parish," he said.

If you mail your ballot, you might need to put  extra stamp on it since it's a large envelope and you may have several pages of ballots inside.

So what happens to the ballot once it's received?

“When you return your ballot, they're checked in every day that comes in and then a status is placed inside the system, of which a voter can go to my web site and check the status of their absentee requests, their ballot. If the status is pending, then you're good to go. If the status is something else, then you need to call the Registrar because you may have missed a witness signature or you may have forgotten to sign it, that sort of thing. So that needs to be taken care of.”

You have until Oct. 30 to request a mail ballot and you have until the day before the election to return your ballot by mail or in person.

“The deadline for all absentee ballots to be in to be turned in and counted is by 4:30 p.m. on the day before the election, so November 2 by 4:30 p.m.,” Ardoin said.

Of the 63,000 or so mail ballots used four years ago, more than 6,000 were rejected by the local parish Board of Election Supervisors in their respective parish.

Not having a proper witness signature is the most common reason, along with not signing it yourself, or returning it after the deadline.

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