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A woman puts a ballot in a drop box on Oct. 27, 2020, at a library in Seattle. (AP) A woman puts a ballot in a drop box on Oct. 27, 2020, at a library in Seattle. (AP)

A woman puts a ballot in a drop box on Oct. 27, 2020, at a library in Seattle. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke October 27, 2020
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 27, 2020

Donald Trump says you can change your vote in most states. That’s misleading

If Your Time is short

• Only a handful of states allow ballots that have been returned to be called back prior to Election Day. 

• Changing your vote may be feasible for voters who have not yet returned their mail ballots, as long as they go in to vote in person and work with election officials to cancel their original ballots.

• A voter would be entirely out of luck if their mail ballot has already been tabulated prior to Election Day, or if they voted early in person. By that time, the vote would have become part of a pool of counted votes that are no longer linked to individual voters.

Exactly a week before Election Day, President Donald Trump tweeted some voting advice to his supporters, saying they could change their votes from Joe Biden to him.

"Strongly Trending (Google) since immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? This refers changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most important Election of your life!"

The answer is actually most likely no. (We’ll deal later on with whether the question "Can I change my vote" was trending on Google.)

Voting experts say this tactic is not as widely available as Trump suggested. It depends heavily on the status of your ballot. 

"It is not correct that most states allow you to cancel an already cast absentee ballot," said Matthew Weil, director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "It depends on when processing begins and what processing means in that state. The majority of states would not allow voters to cancel already cast ballots."

The Trump campaign did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Here are some scenarios when it comes to your ballot. 

Scenario 1: You’ve received your mail ballot, and it’s still in your possession.

This is the category that gives voters the most options.

Obviously, if you haven’t marked your ballot yet, you can simply mark your current choice and submit it.

It gets a bit trickier if you’ve marked your ballot, want to change your vote, but haven’t turned in the ballot yet. 

An analysis of state election laws by ProPublica found that most states will allow people to cancel an as-yet unreturned ballot as long as they come in to vote in person and work with election officials to make sure their records indicate that the in-person vote is the one that should count. In some states, the voter will have to cast a provisional ballot in this situation. Often, election officials will need to take possession of the un-cast ballot and destroy it.

Scenario 2: You’ve submitted your mail ballot.

Experts say there are three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan — that specifically allow you to change your mind and cast a new ballot before Election Day. But it depends on when you change your mind.

"Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan have clear rules about canceling an already cast absentee ballot," Weil said. However, Weil added that Minnesota’s deadline for doing this has already passed.

In Connecticut, you may be able to change your mind, depending on what township you’re voting in, added Jessica Huseman, who is the lead reporter for ProPublica’s Electionland project, which covers election administration.

The key in all cases is whether your ballot has been tabulated yet. If it’s been counted, you can’t call it back.

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"Once the ballot envelopes are verified for eligibility and the ballots are removed from the envelope and put through a tabulator, that’s the ball game," Weil said. "Once a ballot is in a tabulator, it can’t be canceled, because you can’t link it back to a specific voter."

So, in a state that only starts counting ballots on Election Day, such as New York, it is possible for a person to vote in person and have that take precedence over a mail ballot you cast earlier. In other states, however, ballots are counted before Election Day, making this approach impossible.

Scenario 3: You’ve voted in person, whether early or on Election Day.

If you’ve voted in person, you’re out of luck.

"I cannot think of a way for a person to change an in-person vote, because votes are secret and you can’t call it back," Huseman said. "This is the same reason that you can’t recast an already-counted mail in vote, because after it leaves the envelope it is no longer traced to you."

Experts said they aren’t aware of solid data on how often ballots are called back because the voter changed their mind, but they said it’s probably rare.

"It cannot be a huge number, since we know that most absentee ballots that are requested are ultimately counted as submitted," Weil said.

Was there a spike in Google searches?

For the record, there was a spike in Google searching of "Can I change my vote" during the week of Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, though it had been rising fairly consistently since early September. 

 

Still, Trump’s statement doesn’t tell the whole story.

One potential reason that the phrase spiked on Google could be that, as Election Day gets closer, more voters are starting to research the voting process. That jibes with other Trends data that reveal an influx of searches for early and mail-in voting. In 2016, there was a similar uptick in searches for "Can I change my vote?" in the days leading up to Election Day.

This year, search interest in other voting-related phrases, such as "Where can I vote?" and "early voting," also spiked around the same time that "Can I change my vote?" started to tick up. Google Trends says the top election-related searches from the past week are generic, such as "election" and "polls."

Google warns against reading too much into the data.

"A spike in a particular topic does not reflect that a topic is somehow ‘popular’ or ‘winning,’ only that for some unspecified reason, there appear to be many users performing a search about a topic," Google says in an FAQ page. "Google Trends data should always be considered as one data point among others before drawing conclusions."

Our ruling

Trump tweeted, "CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? ... The answer in most states is YES."

This may be feasible for voters who have not yet returned their mail ballot, as long as they go in to vote in person and work with election officials to cancel their original ballot.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more

However, only a handful of states explicitly allow ballots that have been cast to be called back prior to Election Day. And a voter would be entirely out of luck for changing their vote if their mail ballot has already been tabulated prior to Election Day, or if they voted early in person.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, tweet, Oct. 27, 2020

ProPublica, "What to Do If You Change Your Mind About Voting by Mail," Oct. 26, 2020

New York Post, "Some early voters want to change their vote after Hunter Biden exposés," Oct. 26, 2020

Newsy, "Vote Smarter 2020: Some States Allow Early Voters To Change Their Mind," Sept. 25, 2020

Email interview with Jessica Huseman, lead reporter for ProPublica’s Electionland project, Oct. 27, 2020

Email interview with Matthew Weil, director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Oct. 27, 2020

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Donald Trump says you can change your vote in most states. That’s misleading

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