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Ballot bubble troubles, or how to properly fill out your ballot

Aspen City Hall during the 2019 election.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

A voter sits in their car parked near their local ballot drop box, already late for work and desperately filling out their ballot to fulfill their civic duty and check another errand off the list.

Then the only pen in the car runs out of ink with the bubble half-filled. Does the vote still count?

“The machine will read the vote if it’s filled in 25% or more,” says Ingrid Grueter, Pitkin County clerk and recorder. 



Overfilling the bubble is only a problem if it is REALLY overfilled … to the point it looks like a voter changed their mind.

“You don’t have to be totally in the lines as long as it doesn’t look like you’re trying to cross something out,” says Grueter. 




But size is not all that matters when filling out a ballot. Ink color matters, too.

“Please don’t use a sharpie, red or light green ink! Or some fancy color that you like but the machine won’t,” Grueter adds. The main bubble issue for Pitkin County Elections is ballots filled in with markers like a Sharpie, which bleeds to the other side of the paper and confuses the ballot machine. 

Still, no matter how badly a voter could bungle a bubble, the Pitkin County Elections Office does not lose ballots to sloppy bubbling. If a ballot is unclear to a ballot machine, “it will either be duplicated or go to adjudication,” says Grueter.

Election officials will use a process called duplication to make bubbles readable to a ballot machine. The new, duplicated ballot will cast the same votes as the old, somehow unreadable ballot. 

When voter intent is in question — like when a voter crosses out a bubble to fill out a new one — two bipartisan election judges determine intent through a process called adjudication. This way, every ballot received is counted. 

And if a voter chooses to cross out a bubble to change their vote, elections officials ask that voters not initial next to the new bubble. When ballots are pulled for adjudication, which a crossed out bubble would trigger, they should be anonymous and identifying marks complicate the process. 

Food gunk, spit up (yes … that happened this year in Pitkin County) or purple glitter gel ink will all send a ballot to duplication or adjudication.

Local election officials ask that voters grab a new ballot for the drop box, or just cast a vote at your polling place on Tuesday. Blue and black ballpoint pens will be available in abundance.

jtaris@aspentimes.com