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A voter may vote by mail or in person this year—not both. Attempting to vote twice is illegal.

You may vote by mail, early in-person, or in-person on election day. It’s illegal to vote twice.

If you choose to vote in person, poll workers will know if you’ve already been sent a mail ballot. However, in most cases it’s not possible for a poll worker to confirm if a vote by mail ballot you sent back was received by the election office. If you requested a mail ballot and show up at a polling place on Election Day, in many states you’ll be asked to complete a provisional ballot, unless you bring your ballot with you and surrender it at the polling place.

Provisional Ballots

Provisional ballots provide a federally mandated failsafe for voters that show up on Election Day to vote but encounter problems with their eligibility, such as arriving at the wrong precinct or already having applied for an absentee ballot. Provisional ballots are typically counted last, after a voter’s eligibility has been confirmed.

Provisional ballots usually account for a small proportion of ballots cast on Election Day.

It is likely, however, that the number of provisional ballots will increase this year as a result of polling place closures and consolidations, as well as voters who already requested an absentee ballot showing up at the polls. Processing provisional ballots can be even more onerous than absentee ballots. Prior to the customary steps for verifying a voter’s signature, election officials must review the voter’s eligibility on voter rolls as well as whether they have requested and cast a mail-in ballot. Election officials may have to contact the voter for additional information or identification before making a determination of whether to count a provisional ballot. That is why you may see on your voter registration form or absentee ballot request form an optional spot to include your email address or cell phone number. This information can be vital for election officials reaching out to you on tight deadlines.

Check with your election officials if you have concerns

Provisional ballots are an essential feature of our elections ecosystem, but they are intended to be back-up option in case of error or unexpected events. If too many voters go to the polls after already requesting an absentee ballot, the additional time involved in casting a provisional ballot will weigh down already overwhelmed polling places and lead to increased wait times and line lengths.

If you have concerns about your mail ballot, you can check to see if your state has ballot tracking options available or contact your local election official for more information. They can let you know if you will need to fill out a replacement mail ballot or tell you how to vote in person.

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