WKYT Investigates | Avoiding absentee ballot mistakes

Tens of thousands of Kentucky ballots were rejected in the primary.
Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT
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WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - On a warm late-September Thursday, boxes of envelopes and stacks of ballots sat inside the Clark County Courthouse.

They didn’t sit there for long.

A team of workers from the county clerk’s office packed, sealed and sent out ballot after ballot to voters who had requested them.

“So far we’re almost up to 3,500 (absentee ballots requested),” Clark County Clerk Michelle Turner told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “But we’ve still got, what, a week and a half?”

Kentuckians have several options to vote in the upcoming general election:

  • In-person in the three weeks leading up to Election Day (beginning October 13)
  • In-person on Election Day (November 3)
  • Absentee ballot (which can be requested online until October 9)

[Read more about the state’s general election plan here.]

In the primary, record numbers of voters cast their ballots via absentee. The primary election plan to which the governor and secretary of state agreed encouraged all voters to vote that way.

This time, elections officials are encouraging anyone who is able to vote early in person, to lesson the stress on the U.S. Postal Service and county clerks, and to reduce voting lines and crowds on Election Day amid the coronavirus pandemic. Anyone who is concerned about COVID-19, including those who are considered high risk, are encouraged to vote absentee.

For some, voting absentee could be a new process. (Pre-pandemic, absentee ballot restrictions were tight in Kentucky.) Even if it isn’t new to you, there are several steps that must be completed correctly.

That’s why elections officials are urging voters to read the instructions before casting their ballots.

[View your county’s sample ballot here.]

The ballots of tens of thousands of Kentuckians were rejected in the primary because of errors with the way they sent back their ballots. But experts say the most common mistakes are easy to avoid.

“There’s so many different reasons on there to reject one,” Turner said. “If you follow the instructions, there’s no reason anyone’s would be rejected. No reason at all.”

Each county clerk is required to file with the state board of elections a form that details the number of rejected absentee ballots and the reasons they were rejected. The form lists the following as reasons for rejecting absentee ballots:

  • Missed deadline
  • No voter signature
  • No witness signature
  • Non-matching signature
  • Returned in unofficial envelope
  • Envelope not sealed
  • No resident address on envelope
  • Voter deceased
  • Voter already voted in person
  • Inner envelope flap missing
  • Returned as “not deliverable”
  • Inner envelope missing
  • Ballot missing from envelope
  • Multiple ballots in one envelope
  • No ballot application on record
  • Other [which can include reasons like: voter assistance incomplete, missing voter declaration or signed by power of attorney (with no POA on file or included)]

In all, more than 30,000 absentee ballots across Kentucky were rejected in the 2020 primary election, according to compiled numbers from the secretary of state’s office.

Roughly half of those came from Fayette and Jefferson counties alone.

[See how many ballots were rejected from your county in the interactive graphic below.]

The most absentee ballots were rejected in the primary because of missing signatures, state election records show. There are two places you need to sign: one on the brown security envelope and one on the white outer envelope.

The other most common ballot mistakes, records show, involve problems with the envelopes: Envelope not sealed, inner envelope flap missing and inner envelope missing combine for a large chunk of rejected absentee ballots from the primary - nearly 9,000.

Ballots need to be sealed inside the brown security envelope - “That way it’s not tampered or anything,” Turner explained - with the flap left intact on the envelope. Then put that inside the other envelope, seal it and again sign it.

Don’t worry; Turner says ballots are separated from the envelopes and the people counting votes will not know for whom you voted.

Nearly 4,000 primary ballots were rejected for missing the deadline. For the general election, absentee ballots being returned in the mail must be postmarked by Tuesday, November 3 and back in the hands of elections officials by Friday, November 6 to be counted. (The U.S. Postal Service is urging voters to send them no later than a week before the deadline.)

You can also drop your absentee ballot in your county’s drop box as late as Election Day.

It is a lot of steps from start to finish, but elections officials say each step is important to make sure each ballot is safe and secure.

If you are concerned about COVID-19 you can request an absentee ballot online at

The last day to request an absentee ballot online is October 9. If you have already requested an absentee ballot you can check the status of it here.

The deadline to register to vote is October 5. You can register - or check your registration - online here.

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