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October 5, 2022

Ballot Replication Guide

The guide is available for download:

Ballot replication is a vital step in processing hand-marked paper ballots. In the simplest terms, ballot replication refers to the process of producing a replicated ballot to replace a ballot that is not able to be scanned. Invariably, some ballots in every election will require replication. Election officials and their teams take every possible step to ensure all eligible ballots are scanned and counted.


 

Understanding the Guide

Ballot replication involves replacing a damaged or unscannable ballot with a new ballot that election staff have marked in the same way as the original. This ensures that every voter has their voice heard – a process that is particularly critical for military and overseas voters. The process of replicating a ballot is sometimes referred to as “ballot remakes” or “ballot duplication.” We like the term “ballot replication” – to replicate means to make an exact copy of something.

Voters and/or observers may misconstrue ballot replication as tampering. However, where election officials have standard operating procedures that are clearly communicated to observers—allowing transparent observation of the replication process—elections offices can demonstrate the election’s integrity and relieve those concerns.

This guide will provide election administrators the principles, considerations, and best practices  for ballot replication. It will help in developing specific procedures and practices which align with local laws, regulations, technology and preferences.

Principles:

  • Clearly illustrated voter intent rules provide the foundation for interpreting how voters’ marks should be transferred.

  • Replicated ballots should be clearly identified and easy to compare with the original.

  • Ballots can be replicated with electronic ballot marking devices or by hand on pre-printed paper ballots.

  • Operating procedures and expectations should be clearly communicated to all who assist in the process to ensure accuracy.

  • Quality control checks or compliance audits should ensure procedures are followed.

  • Transparency about the number of ballots to be replicated, reasons for replication, and how and when it will be done should be publicized to the public and candidates.

Keep in mind:

  • Inevitably, some ballots will need to be replicated. Written guidelines outlining standard procedures strengthen transparency by helping observers and participants understand what is being done.

  • Check the requirements for ballot replication in your state before changing your process.


 

Using the Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Why It Is Done
  2. How It Is Done
  3. Pre-Election Planning
  4. Identify Ballots to be Replicated
  5. Transfer and Tracking of Original Ballots
  6. Appendix

 

Why It Is Done

Common reasons for replication include:

  • Physical damage to the ballot that occurs during normal delivery, processing, or scanning. [A]

  • Damaged timing marks. This includes anything that would make the ballot unscannable such as coffee spills, wrinkles, or small tears as well as stray marks made by the voter that interfere with scanning. [B]

  • Ballot misprints where a mistake by the election office or the printer makes a set of ballots unreadable. [C]

  • Unclear voter markings. Sometimes a voter will circle the target oval or candidate’s name or use a checkmark or an X that carries over to an adjacent oval. Voters may also cross off a vote and then fill in another oval. Depending on the jurisdiction’s laws or regulations regarding voter intent, these may be markings that can be corrected to reflect the voter’s intent rather than result in overvotes or undervotes. When making such corrections, it is vital for a bipartisan team to agree on the voter’s intent. [D]

  • Unreadable ink color. In some jurisdictions, the law may allow the election office to replicate ballots marked in pencil or an unscannable pen color. [E]

  • UOCAVA ballots are often unscannable because they are returned electronically or the returned ballot is printed on inappropriate paper stock, dimension, weight or orientation. This includes the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). [F]

  • In some cases, ballots cast in the wrong precinct may be transferred to the correct ballot style in states where the election code allows it. [G]

[A] Physical Damage     [B] Damaged Timing Marks      [C] Ballot Misprints      [D] Unclear Voter Marks

 

[E] Unreadable Ink Color       [F] UOCAVA Ballots          [G] Wrong Precinct


 

How It Is Done

Ballot replication is performed by a team of two people with different political party affiliations. They work together to copy the voter’s marks from their unscannable ballot onto a new ballot that can be scanned and tallied by the voting equipment. This includes checking for the correct ballot style (precinct, party for a primary) and working methodically through each contest to transfer the voter’s choices accurately. Both ballots are given a unique identifier so that they can be reunited if the replication process is ever challenged.

Ballot replication ensures that a ballot that is damaged, torn or otherwise unreadable still counts.

 

Instructions for Replication Board Using the Delayed/Batch Process.

A team of two members are required to replicate a ballot. Do not proceed on your own. You can only start when both of you are together.

You will receive a batch with damaged ballots and a replication log.

  1. Count the number of ballots you received. The number of ballots identified as damaged must match the total number written in the replication log. If it does not, get the supervisor to resolve the issue.

  2. Obtain a new ballot for each ballot that needs to be replicated:

    • If using pre-printed ballots, both members of the replication team should go together to the ballot storage area and obtain the correct ballot style needed and make any notation required for inventory and ballot accounting purposes.

    • If using ballot marking devices (BMDs), program the ballot marking device to bring up the correct ballot style on screen.

    • If using ballot- on-demand printers (BODs), print the correct ballot style required.

  3. Verify that the new ballot matches the original ballot’s style (party for primary election, precinct or ballot style number).

  4. One team member will read the selections on the original ballot while the other team member will mark the new ballot. Go slowly and pay attention to detail.

  5. Mark the original ballot with its unique identification number. Obstruct a portion of the timing marks on the original ballot using a label or marker.

  6. Mark the replicated ballot with its identification number.

  7. Fill out the replication log with the ballot style and the reason for replication.

  8. Continue steps 2 through 7 for each ballot in the batch.

  9. Count the number of replicated ballots and verify that it matches the number on the replication log. Sign or initial the ballot replication log.

  10. Attach the batch control sheet or one page of the replication log to the replicated ballots.  Attach the replication log to the original ballots.

  11. The reviewing supervisor or team should sign off on each batch after checking the following:

    • Are the original and replicated ballots marked with “Original” and “Replicate” and appropriate identifying numbers?

    • Does the ballot style match between each original and its replicate?

    • Is the replicated ballot marked correctly?

  12. The original ballots and replication log go to storage while the replicated ballots and copy of replication log go to tabulation.

 

Instructions for Replication Board Using the Immediate Process.

A team of two members are required to replicate a ballot. Do not proceed on your own. You can only start when both of you are together. Depending on when the issue requiring replication is discovered, this may be a ballot preparation team or a tabulation team. The team members must stay together with the damaged ballot(s) at all times.

  1. Obtain a new ballot for each ballot that needs to be replicated:

    • If using pre-printed ballots, both members of the replication team should go together to the ballot storage area and obtain the correct ballot style needed and make any notation required for inventory and ballot accounting purposes.

    • If using ballot marking devices (BMDs), program the ballot marking device to bring up the correct ballot style on screen.

    • If using ballot- on-demand printers (BODs), print the correct ballot style required.

  2. Verify that the new ballot matches the original ballot’s style (party for primary election, precinct or ballot style number).

  3. One team member will read the selections on the original ballot while the other team member will mark the new ballot. Go slowly and pay attention to detail.

  4. Mark the original ballot with its unique identification number. Obstruct a portion of the timing marks on the original ballot using a label or marker.

  5. Mark the replicated ballot with its identification number.

  6. Complete the ballot replication log by identifying the batch, ballot style, reason for replication. Both members of the team must initial the log.

  7. Transfer the original ballot to storage with the ballot replication log.

  8. Return to the original batch with the new replicated ballot. Verify that the number of ballots in the batch is correct.


 

Pre-Election Planning

Prepare equipment and supplies, and train workers prior to the start of voting or mail ballot processing. Consider when to begin printing blank ballots if replication is happening by hand or keep aside a small set of pre-printed ballots.

Identifying ballots to replicate can start as early as receiving voted UOCAVA ballots. Schedule the actual work of replicating ballots  to conform with your state’s statutes. In some states work can begin prior to Election Day. In others, work will occur on Election Day and post-election.

For jurisdictions with multi-card ballots, an extra supply of the first card (e.g. Card 1 or Card A) may be needed to ensure accurate ballot accounting for total votes cast.

An Ounce of Prevention

Having a secure, efficient ballot replication process is crucial. Just as critical are processes that do not damage ballots, thereby limiting the need for replication.

• A poorly adjusted mail opener can damage ballots.  If your office is new to automated mail equipment, be very careful with the settings on your mail opener.

• We strongly advise a practice run with real ballot envelopes and ballot stock (but not real ballots) to ensure settings and calibration are correct.

• Good return envelope design and instructions can also help reduce the number of ballots that need replication.

People

  • Teams of Two or The Replication Board

    • The actual replicating–transferring voter markings from the unscannable ballot to a new ballot–must be completed by trained teams, never by individuals.

    • Wherever possible or required, use bi-partisan teams.

    • Depending on your election code, these teams might be election staff, poll workers, or canvassing board members nominated by the parties.

  • Supervisor or Lead

    • There is no room for error in this process. A supervisor or lead staff member familiar with replication should oversee it.

    • Supervising the process includes identifying ballots that need to be replicated and ensuring their security at all times.

    • Depending on the volume of replicated ballots, review of each one may not be possible. In such circumstances, develop a method for spot-checking or auditing a sample to ensure quality control.

  • Legal Department

    • Consider having a member of your legal team sign off on your process.

    • Consult all relevant guidance from your state to ensure compliance.

  • Observers, Candidates, Advocates, etc.

    • A readily available handout will allay concerns and allow you to control the message describing the process.

Ballots

One or more of the following could be used for producing the newly replicated ballot:

  • Pre-printed blank ballots

    • This requires ordering a sufficient quantity of each ballot style ahead of the election.

    • Coordinate with the print vendor about how to package and distinguish them from ballots being delivered to voting locations or being sent to mail ballot voters.

  • Ballot on demand (BOD) printer

    • This requires ordering sufficient blank ballot stock and toner.

    • BODs are more efficient in printing blank ballots than finding preprinted paper ballots or printing a PDF.

    • This method minimizes human error of selecting an incorrect ballot style.

  • Ballot-marking device (BMDs)

    • Ballot-marking devices (BMDs) can also be used to mark ballots in place of manually marking a paper ballot.

    • The steps for identifying ballots to be replicated, marking the ballots, and providing reviews are the same.

Other Supplies

  • Highlighters or ballot marking pens to mark ballots

  • Stamps or labels with the words “original” and “replicated”

  • Clearly marked boxes for storing original ballots

Documents

  • Batch control sheets

  • Replication logs (two-ply if one copy goes with the replicated ballots and another copy stays with the original ballots) (Appendix 2 and 3)

  • Procedures for internal training (Appendix 4 and 5)

  • Handouts for observers (Appendix 1)

  • Voter intent guides (jurisdiction-specific)

Best Practice Tip

A handout describing the process for replicating ballots should be made available to all poll watchers and observers (Appendix 1). It is advisable to make these available where party leadership, candidates and attorneys, or observers are present. Consider discussing your process with them in advance to prevent disruption to the process once work commences. The same information should be posted on the election office website to help educate the public.


 

Identify Ballots To Be Replicated

Flagging ballots that need to be replicated can start as early as non-machine readable UOCAVA ballots are returned, or mail ballots are prepared for scanning.

The most common reasons for requiring ballot replication include:

  • Physical damage to the ballot that occurs during normal delivery, processing, or scanning. For example, damage by USPS sorting equipment or envelope slicing equipment used in the election office.

  • Damaged timing marks. This includes anything that would make the ballot unscannable such as coffee spills, wrinkles, or small tears, as well as stray marks made by the voter that interfere with scanning.

  • Ballot misprints where a mistake by the election office or the printer makes a set of ballots unreadable.

  • Unclear voter markings. Sometimes a voter will circle the target oval or candidate’s name or use a checkmark or an X that carries over to an adjacent oval. Voters may also cross off a vote and then fill in another oval. Depending on the jurisdiction’s laws or regulations regarding voter intent, these may be markings that can be corrected to reflect the voter’s intent rather than result in overvotes or undervotes. When making such corrections, it is vital for a bipartisan team to agree on the voter’s intent.

  • Unreadable ink color. In some jurisdictions, the law may allow the election office to replicate ballots marked in pencil or an unscannable pen color.

  • UOCAVA ballots are often unscannable because they are returned electronically or the returned ballot is printed on inappropriate paper stock, dimension, weight or orientation. This includes the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).

  • Ballots cast in the wrong precinct or on the wrong ballot style may be transferred to the correct ballot style in states where the election code allows.

    • This process follows the replication procedure using batch control sheets, logs, teams, etc. However, in this case, the vote is transferred not replicated.  Only the selections for offices that are common between the original ballot style and the replicated ballot style are transferred (or as defined in the statute).


 

Transfer and Tracking of Original Ballots

Tracking, accounting, and securing damaged or unscannable ballots is vital. As noted earlier, an important principle of the ballot replication process is to be able to track each replicated ballot back to its original source batch.

The process for approaching these three elements can be streamlined when the blank ballot printing, marking and reviewing team, and scanning technology are all under one roof. Having these processes located together also solves some security issues.

This can be done in two ways.  The choice depends on a few factors:

  • The estimated number of ballots to be replicated

  • The time when the ballots can be scanned

  • Who is allowed to replicate the ballots

 

Transfer of Votes

Regardless of whether replication is done immediately or later, the process itself is identical. A replication board should be a team of two persons, ideally with different political party affiliation.

  1. The replication board will obtain a new ballot for the same precinct, party, and style.

  2. A stamp or label is applied to the original ballot indicating it is the original. And a stamp or label is applied to the new ballot indicating that it is the replicated ballot.

  3. A best practice is to cover or otherwise disrupt some of the timing marks on the original ballot (e.g. using a marker or label) to ensure that the original ballot cannot be tabulated by mistake.

  4. Using a ballot replication tracking log, assign the next sequential identification number to both the original ballot and new blank ballot – linking them together.

  5. Note the reason for replication in the replication log.

  6. One member of the replication board will call out the votes for each contest while the other member marks the ballot according to the voiced selections.

  7. Both members of the replication board must compare the original and replicated ballot to ensure accuracy.

  8. The replication board members initial or sign the log to indicate that replication has been completed and that it was done accurately.

  9. If a second level of review is conducted, the reviewing supervisor or team must also compare the original and replicated ballot and indicate approval. If appropriate, they must return the ballot for replication again. For example, if the replicating team has made a mistake, the first replicated ballot must be spoiled, and a new blank ballot of the same style must be obtained.

  10. The original ballot is stored with other ballots that have been replicated.

  11. The replicated ballot is sent to tabulation.

The following two sections explain the specific processes for (1) delayed or batch replication and (2) same-day or immediate replication.

 

Delayed/Batch Replication Process

In jurisdictions that may have many unscannable ballots to process, or require only authorized board members to replicate, holding a batch that may have damaged ballots can cause delays. In this scenario, the unscannable ballots are removed from their original batch and transferred to be replicated and scanned separately as a new batch.

The process looks something like this:

  1. Remove the unscannable ballots from the batch.

  2. Record the number of ballots on a ballot batch control sheet.

  3. Attach a replication log for the removed ballots with the number of ballot(s) being transferred to the replication team.

  4. The initial batch, minus the ballots removed for replication, is scanned.

  5. The removed ballots and the replication log are sent for replication by teams of two or secured until the canvassing board that is allowed to replicate ballots has convened.

  6. The replication team records the date, reason for replication, and batch number. The replication team assigns control numbers to the replicated and original ballots so that they can be reunited later if necessary.

  7. The batch of replicated ballots is recorded on a new batch control sheet, and sent to be scanned. If using a two-ply replication log, one page of the log can serve as the batch control sheet.

  8. The replicated ballots with their batch control sheet, and the original ballots with replication logs, are stored separately in clearly marked containers.

Flowchart showing Delayed/Batch Replication Process.

 

In this example, if the beginning count for the batch was 100 and three ballots were removed for duplication, then the final count would be 97. The ballot preparation and ballot scanning teams should also complete paperwork indicating how many ballots are set aside for replication on a daily or batch basis. A similar batch control sheet should also be used for the ballot preparation team that discovers torn or damaged ballots or ballots otherwise needing replication prior to sending the ballots to tabulation. In this way, the documentation tells the whole story of how many ballot envelopes were transferred from signature verification, how many were rejected for various reasons (e.g. empty envelope, wrong election), how many were sent to replication, and how many were sent to tabulation.

 

In this example, Replication Team A is working on the 59th batch of ballots needing replication. The unique number assigned to the original and replicated ballot is derived from the team number, the replication batch identifier, and then the individual ballot in sequential order. If there is no need for multiple replication teams, the team designation could be removed.

The replication team notes the ballot style and the reviewer signs off that he or she has reviewed the ballot style and the replicated ballot for accuracy. This two-ply form then is separated with one copy going with the original ballots to storage and the other copy going with the replicated ballots to tabulation. Before sending this batch to tabulation, the replication team or the reviewer would write the number of ballots in the batch in the Replication Count.  Later, the tabulation team would fill in the number of ballots tabulated. A customizable version of this ballot replication log is in the Appendix.

 

In order to properly account for all replicated ballots when using the delayed replication process, the batch control sheets and the ballot replication logs should be compared with the tabulation counts to ensure that all ballots are accounted for.

 

Same-Day/Immediate Replication Process

In some jurisdictions, replication can be done immediately when a ballot is identified as needing replication. In lieu of removing a ballot from a batch to be replicated later, this technique addresses the need in real time, and maintains batch integrity by immediately replicating the ballot and returning the new ballot to the batch. This may make ballot accounting simpler and easier for those observing to understand.

However, immediate replication is less time-efficient, so it may be impractical in some jurisdictions, especially if:

  • A canvass board must perform replication, and/or

  • Relatively large numbers of ballots must be replicated, and/or

  • Unscannable ballots are typically not recognized until the scanner rejects them (or the scanner itself damages them).

As shown in the above example, the original and replicated ballots are each stamped. You should use a stamp or a label or some other method to identify the original and replicated ballots.

 

Flowchart showing Immediate Replication Process.

 

In this example, the ballots marked with an O (e.g. 9-1-O) are the original ballots received from the voters. Their counterparts that were sent to tabulation in their original batches would be identified with an R for replicated (e.g. 9-1-R). The original ballots would then be stored in a different location, such as a storage bin or ballot box that is clearly marked. If the original ballots would ever need to be reviewed, identifying them with their original batch number will make it easy to reunite the original ballot with its replicated version. A customizable version of this Ballot Replication Log is provided in the Appendix.


 

Appendix

Ballot Replication Explanation Guide for Observers

Ballot Replication Log for Delayed:Batch Replication

Ballot Replication Log for Immediate Replication

Instructions for Delayed/Batch Process

Instructions for Immediate Process

 


 

Download our guide:

Ballot Replication Guide (PDF)