Rumor Control Center

Elections are complex and governed by state and federal laws and procedures. Learn more about how Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio administer elections and get the facts about various election myths. Mis- and disinformation can undermine public confidence in the electoral process, as well as in our democracy. Our goal is to combat and dispel rumors with facts.

Facts vs. Myths

Myth:

People can easily violate the integrity of mail-in voting through various tactics such as voting multiple ballots, requesting a ballot pretending to be someone else, etc.

Fact:

There are numerous safeguards to protect the integrity of voting by mail in Ohio. The process to vote from home is just as secure as voting in-person on Election Day.

The Details:

Voting by mail has been available to voters in Ohio for nearly two decades, and its use dates all the way back to the Civil War. There are several safeguards in place to prevent voter fraud. These include:

  • Two-step verification process:  In Ohio, a voter must first request a Vote-by-Mail ballot be sent to them by completing an application. The application must contain identifying information such as name, date of birth, signature, and a form of identification, typically a driver license number or social security number. This information is cross-checked by a bipartisan team of board of elections employees against the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration, along with their original voter registration form, to ensure the voter is who they say they are. If everything matches, only then is a ballot mailed to the voter.

    When the voter returns their completed ballot through the mail, the second step of the verification process takes place. A voter must seal the completed ballot inside what is called an ID envelope, which must contain the voter’s name, date of birth, signature, and a form of identification. This information is again verified by a bipartisan team to ensure accuracy. Only at this point will a ballot be accepted for counting.
  • One vote, one ballot:  Regardless of how many applications for a Vote-by-Mail ballot a voter submits, only one ballot will be mailed. The same voter registration system that verifies the identifying information of each voter also keeps track of all ballots that are mailed, preventing a voter from being sent more than one ballot. The same holds true when ballots are returned.
  • A ballot must be requested:  In Ohio, a ballot is only sent to a voter upon request. Ballots are not sent to voters automatically.
  • Voter rolls are consistently updated:  Boards of elections continually add and remove people from Ohio's voter rolls, using data from the national moving database, the Bureau of Motor vehicles, and death records. This ensures that only eligible voters receive ballots.
  • Ballot harvesting is prohibited:  Ballot harvesting is the collecting and submitting of completed Vote-by-Mail ballots by third-party individuals, often political operatives, rather than submission by voters themselves directly to ballot collection sites. This is prohibited in Ohio. Only the voter or their immediate family can submit ballots.

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Myth:

Vote-by-Mail ballots are thrown out if they arrive after Election Day.

Fact:

Elections officials will process and count all valid Vote-by-Mail ballots that are postmarked by the day before Election Day and arrive no later than 10 days after the election.

The Details:

Per Ohio Revised Code, all Vote-by-Mail ballots postmarked by the day before Election Day and received at the board of elections office no later than the 10th day after Election Day will be counted if otherwise valid. A ballot returned without a postmark must be received by the board of elections office no later than 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. Mail sent using a postage evidencing system, including a postage meter or postage from private companies that dispense postage through the internet (e.g., Stamps.com), are not considered a postmark.

Note: The legal allowance of a Vote-by-Mail ballot to be received and counted after Election Day is one reason results posted on Election Night are “unofficial,” as those results will not include these ballots. 

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Myth:

Vote-by-Mail ballots are only counted if the election is close.

Fact:

All valid Vote-by-Mail ballots are counted in every single election.

The Details:

All valid Vote-by-Mail ballots are counted in every single election, without exception. If a Vote-by-Mail ballot is returned on time and all the required identifying information is printed on the ID envelope that a ballot must be returned in, the ballot is counted in the final results. In fact, Vote-by-Mail ballots are included in the first votes tabulated when polls close on Election Day.

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Myth:

Drop boxes used to collect returned mail ballots can be easily tampered with, stolen, or destroyed.

Fact:

Robust safeguards protect against tampering with ballots returned via a drop box.

The Details:

In Ohio, each county is permitted only one permanent drop box for the purpose of collecting Vote-by-Mail ballots, and this drop box must be located on board of elections property.

As detailed in Directive 2021-10 (The Use of Secure Receptacles and Election Officials to Receive Absentee Ballots Outside the Board of Elections), boards of elections must provide voters with 24/7 access to a secure receptacle to submit a Vote-by-Mail ballot. This receptacle must be monitored 24/7 by a security camera and bolted to the ground. At least once daily, one Republican and Democratic member of a board of elections must together check, retrieve the contents, and re-lock the drop box. The employees that collect ballots from the drop box must have passed a criminal background check.

Cuyahoga County has had a secure drop box in the back parking lot of its 2925 Euclid Avenue address since 2014.

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Myth:

Voting equipment is unreliable, and the results of an election can’t be trusted as a result.

Fact:

Voting machines are tested before every election to ensure 100% accuracy.

The Details:

Boards of elections must conduct Logic and Accuracy (L&A) Testing on all voting equipment before each election – without exception. Every ballot style in an election is tested on every single voting device, using a predetermined number of valid votes for each contest, so the results each voting machine tabulates during the test can be compared to the vote total on the test ballots to ensure 100% accuracy. The L&A Testing of each voting machine is done by a bipartisan team of two election officials.

Additionally, prior to each election, boards must conduct a public test of the voting equipment to ensure ballots are being tabulated properly. This includes ensuring that the voting equipment rejects a ballot where more votes are cast for a race than allowed by law.

The tabulation equipment, which collects the results from all voting machines and produces the final election results, also undergoes this same test before it starts receiving results, then after all the results have been collected, to ensure accuracy.

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Myth:

Ballots can be easily destroyed or manipulated by election officials before they are counted.

Fact:

Ballot handling procedures protect against intentional or unintentional ballot manipulation.

The Details:

The key point to stress is that during the entire time a voted ballot is at a board of elections, it is always handled by a bipartisan team of two board employees. All board employees take an Oath of Office that states they will uphold the election laws of the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Ohio, with the penalty a fifth-degree felony if they fail to do so. We all take this Oath extremely seriously.

When a voted ballot is received at a board of elections, it is stored in a locked room that can only be accessed by a bipartisan team (each have their own security code, and both must be used in conjunction to unlock the room). When a voted ballot is removed from its ID envelope, it is done so by a bipartisan team. Once the ballot has been scanned into a tabulation system to capture the votes on that ballot, the ballots are returned to a locked room. While the tabulation system records the votes on the ballots it has scanned, it does not create a count of how many votes a candidate or issue has received. Board officials do not see the results of an election until after 7:30 p.m. on election night – the same time as the public.

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Myth:

Election results can be changed by hacking the voting equipment or by manipulating the results when transmitted over the internet.

Fact:

Voting equipment is not connected to the internet, and results are transmitted to the Secretary of State over a secure and encrypted internet connection.

The Details:

In Ohio, no voting equipment is allowed to be connected to the internet. When a voting machine is used – whether during Early In-Person voting, to scan Vote-by-Mail ballots, or at a polling location, it is not connected to any network. The only cord coming out of the voting equipment is the power cable. This guarantees that no outside manipulation of the voting results can take place at any point. The only time election results travel over the internet is on election night when results are transmitted through a secure encrypted connection to the Secretary of State.

Additionally, strong password protocols are followed on all voting equipment and tabulation systems. To access the tabulation system, a Democrat and Republican, each possessing half of the password, must be present to unlock the system. At the polling locations, voting machines are secured with seals that are checked both the night before and the morning of the election to ensure no tampering has taken place.

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Myth:

If the results on election night change over the ensuing days or weeks, the process is fraudulent or compromised, so I can’t trust the results.

Fact:

Election results reporting may occur more slowly than some voters expect. This alone does not indicate a problem or that there are issues affecting the integrity of the election. Official results are not certified until all validly cast ballots have been counted, including ballots that are legally counted after election night.

The Details:

It’s understandable that many voters believe the results posted on election night are the final totals, and the leaders of the candidate or issue races when election night is over are the winners. Media outlets often declare the winner of a race on election night based on the reported results, and many candidates will declare victory (and the losing candidate(s) give a concession speech) on election night. But the final vote totals are not certified until between 2-3 weeks after the election.

The results posted on election night are called the Unofficial Results. These include all ballots cast at polling locations on Election Day, and all absentee ballots (both Early In-Person and Vote-by-Mail) received by the board of elections before the close of polls at 7:30 p.m. While the Unofficial Results make up a large portion of the final vote total, it doesn’t constitute all of it.

Over the next 2-3 weeks, boards of elections tally all eligible ballots that were not included in the Unofficial Results. These ballots include all Provisional ballots and Vote-by-Mail ballots postmarked by the day before the election and received no later than 10 days after Election Day. Once all these ballots have been tabulated, they are added to the Unofficial Results to make up the Official Results. These are the final results of the election, and all winners are officially certified based on these results.

Sources:

  • Directive 2022-14 – Ohio Election Official Manual, Chapter 10:  Canvassing the Vote

Myth:

You must have a photo ID to vote in Ohio.

Fact:

There are several valid forms of ID for voting in Ohio that do not require a photo.

The Details:

While an Ohio driver license or State ID are the most common forms of ID used for voting purposes, there are several other forms of ID that are valid as well. These include a utility bill (water, sewer, electric, heating, cable, internet, and phone), a bank statement, government check or a paycheck. For all the items just listed, the name and address on the document must match the voter’s information in the pollbook and be current within 12 months of the Election Day for which the voter is presenting it. College students can use what’s termed a “zero balance” utility bill from the college or university they are attending, so long as it meets the same requirements as a regular utility bill.

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Myth:

Election officials and poll workers can discover how I voted my ballot.

Fact:

Safeguards in the voting process ensure that no one, including election officials and poll workers, know how a voter cast their ballot.

The Details:

There are two “stops” along the voting process that a voter may feel an election official might know how they voted their ballot, so let’s clarify how the secrecy of a ballot is maintained in Ohio.

  1. If you vote on Election Day, poll workers will confirm your eligibility to vote (and ensure you are voting in the correct precinct) using an electronic pollbook (EPB). The EPB contains the voter registration information for all voters in Cuyahoga County. It’s important to note that all the information contained within the EPB is a public record. Before a voter is handed a ballot, the barcode on the stub of the ballot is scanned into the EPB to ensure the correct ballot is being given. At this stage, the ballot has not been voted, therefore no voting information is being collected (votes are not tabulated on the EPB).
  2. After a voter fills out their paper ballot, they go to the voting machine to scan their ballot. Before inserting the ballot into the voting machine to be tabulated, they must remove the ballot stub (the scanner will not scan a ballot with a stub). Once the stub is removed, any identifying information for that ballot has been removed. Meaning it’s impossible to know who voted that ballot, as it will be indistinguishable from all other ballots scanned into the voting machine. The same holds true if you Vote-by-Mail. Once a Vote-by-Mail ballot is received, it is removed from the envelope and the stub removed before it is scanned by a high-speed scanner.

Finally, in a primary election, the voter must declare a political party (or a nonpartisan ballot). While that does identify the party a voter chooses to affiliate with (and the candidates they can choose from), it doesn’t let anyone know which candidates the voter chooses.


Myth:

I’m just one person, my vote doesn’t matter.

Fact:

The number of races decided by one vote or a handful of votes is greater than voters believe.

The Details:

Over the past six years in Cuyahoga County, there have been nine contests that have resulted in a tie and two more that were decided by just one vote. In 2021, there were 18 different races that resulted in a tie statewide. 

There have been plenty of examples around the country where races have been decided by just a handful of votes, including contests where millions of votes were cast. The most notable race was the 2000 presidential election, where George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes in a race where almost 6 million votes were cast. In 2008, a U.S. Senate race in Minnesota was decided by just 312 votes out of almost 2.9 million votes cast.

Finally, if every person decided not to vote believing it doesn’t matter, then no one would vote at all. A representative democracy works better when its citizens participate.

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Myth:

Millions of non-citizens are voting and tipping the outcomes of elections and voting fraud in general is widespread.

Fact:

Voter fraud, including voting by non-citizens, is extremely rare.

The Details:

Voter fraud is extremely rare, both in Ohio and the United States. For the 2020 presidential election, nearly 6 million votes were cast in Ohio, with only 27 that were cast illegally. That comes out to just 0.0005% of the total vote. The Associated Press conducted a review of every potential voter fraud case from six battleground states in 2020 and found fewer than 475 possible cases out of the 25.5 million votes cast for president in those states.

When taking a longer view, the results are still the same. A review conducted by the Loyola Law School found just 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. The New York Times notes that states that use Vote-by-Mail have encountered nearly zero fraud. Oregon, which is an all Vote-by-Mail state, has only documented about a dozen cases of voter fraud since 2000, or 0.00001% of all votes cast. Statistically, an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit mail voting fraud.

Non-citizens registering or voting is also extremely rare. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose referred 31 potential cases of non-citizen voter registrations to the Ohio Attorney General on Feb. 1, 2022. There are over 8 million registered voters in Ohio, so these potential cases represent about 0.0004% of all registrations. Secretary LaRose also referred four cases of non-citizens who potentially voted in the 2020 presidential election. With almost 6 million votes cast in that election, these four cases would account for about 0.00007% of the vote total.

Nationwide, the data paints a similar picture. The Brennan Center for Justice looked at 42 election jurisdictions with large non-citizen populations in the 2016 presidential election. They found only 30 incidents of suspected non-citizen voting out of 23.5 million votes tabulated in those jurisdictions – or just 0.0001% of the votes cast.

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Myth:

A malicious actor can easily defraud an election by printing and sending in extra mail-in ballots.

Fact:

Safeguards are in place to prevent home-printed or photocopied mail-in ballots from being counted.

The Details:

In order for a voter to receive a valid Vote-by-Mail ballot, he/she must first complete an application. This first step allows boards of elections to mark in a voter’s record that a ballot has been requested (and then sent). When a ballot is returned, before it is ever opened, the required identifying information on the envelope of the returned ballot is verified against the voter’s registration record. If everything checks out, a returned ballot is marked in a voter’s record, and the ballot is opened and tabulated. If a voter photocopies a ballot and attempts to return multiple ballots, the marking of a returned ballot in a voter’s record prevents more than one ballot from being accepted (and if this circumstance occurs a board of elections has the authority to open an investigation for voter fraud).

If a voter photocopies their ballot to provide ballots to other voters who did not request a ballot, the same safeguard system will prevent these ballots from being counted. Again, to be eligible to vote by mail, a voter must first apply. If a board of elections receives a ballot and there isn’t a record of that voter having requested a ballot, the ballot will not be opened and counted.

Finally, every ballot mailed to a voter has a stub on it, with perforated lines that separate the stub from the rest of the ballot. Each stub has a unique number. This, combined with the fact that a photocopied ballot will not have perforated lines, is another safeguard that protects fraudulent activity around Vote-by-Mail ballots.

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Myth:

It’s hard to trust the results of elections, as it seems everything is done in secrecy and the public has no way of knowing what has taken place.

Fact:

Boards of elections are required to conduct post-election audits (open to the public) following every General Election (in Cuyahoga County we conduct audits after every election), so the public is confident our elections are secure, and the results are accurate.

The Details:

Several safeguards are in place to protect the integrity of elections in Ohio, and we cover many of them in other parts of this Facts vs. Myths web page. The final step that boards of elections take following an election is an audit. This is the final “verdict” that the results of a given election are accurate.

A post-election audit is a comprehensive review of the results of one or more contests in an election to ensure that the results reported by the board of elections are accurate. Both percentage-based and risk-limiting audits are widely considered reliable ways to determine the accuracy of the results.

Audit descriptions

In short, conducting audits ensures our elections are secure, boosts voter confidence in the results, and holds each board of elections accountable for the integrity and accuracy of the election. Voters in Ohio should feel confident, as the accuracy rate for the 2020 presidential election was 99.98%, followed by a 99.9% accuracy rate for the 2021 General Election.

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Myth:

Provisional ballots are only counted if the election is close.

Fact:

All valid Provisional ballots are counted in every election, regardless of how close any race is.

The Details:

A Provisional ballot is used if a voter's eligibility is in question and the voter would otherwise not be permitted to vote at their polling place. The content of a Provisional ballot is no different from a regular ballot, but it is cast "Provisionally" until election officials can verify the voter's eligibility to vote in the particular precinct at that election.

A Provisional ballot may be used if a voter's eligibility is in question, or if a voter has recently changed their address and did not update their voter registration. These are just a couple of examples. The key takeaway is that a Provisional ballot is a benefit to a voter, as it allows them the ability to vote even if there is a question about their eligibility, allowing election officials to review and confirm their eligibility before the final vote totals are certified.

For voters, these are the key points to remember:

  • You must cast your provisional ballot in the correct precinct/polling location based on where you currently live. Not based upon where your voter registration record says you live, but where you live at the moment you are casting your ballot.
  • You must complete all five required fields on the Provisional envelope, which includes a valid form of ID.
  • You must be registered anywhere in the state of Ohio.

If these criteria are met, your Provisional ballot will be counted in the Official Results – the results that determine the winner of a race. Valid Provisional ballots are always counted, regardless of the outcome of any contest.

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Myth:

Voters are being "purged" from voter rolls for no reason and without any prior notice.

Fact:

Voter roll maintenance is required by law and voters are never removed from the voter rolls without multiple notifications detailing the need to confirm/update their registration.

The Details:

Election officials have a legal obligation to keep voter registration records current by canceling registrations of voters who have died, are imprisoned, have moved out of state, or have become legally incompetent. “Purging” or list maintenance is required by federal law -- the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) -- and is a means to ensure that voter rolls are dependable, accurate, and up to date.

In Ohio, the Secretary of State (SOS) has a policy of purging voters because they failed to vote for two years, they failed to return a notice sent to them in the mail, and they failed to vote for four more years. Voters at risk of being purged are publicly listed months ahead of their removal to provide them adequate time to check their voter registration status. Ohio also mails a second and final confirmation notice 30-45 days prior to the purge taking place. Voters are never removed from the voter rolls without multiple notifications detailing the need to confirm/update their registration.

Voters can remove their names from purged lists by taking any of the following voter-initiated activity:

  • Voting
  • Submitting an absentee application
  • Updating their voter registration
  • Updating or confirming an address with the BOE or BMV
  • Signing a candidate or issue petition that is verified with the BOE

There are two parts to Ohio's voter records maintenance program:

  1. The National Change of Address (NCOA) process, which is triggered when a voter record appears in the United States Postal Service database indicating that the voter associated with that record likely has moved since the records were last compared, and thus the voter may need to update their voter registration to the current voting residence address.

  2. The Supplemental Process is triggered by a voter’s inactivity during a fixed period, generally two years. This second component is designated as the “supplemental process” because it seeks to identify electors whose lack of voter-initiated activity indicates they may have moved even though their names did not appear as a part of the NCOA process. This uniform and non-discriminatory program has been designed to help ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained, that voters who likely have moved are proactively contacted and given the opportunity to update their voter registration with their proper county board of elections, and to accurately identify and cancel the voter registrations of individuals who are no longer qualified electors under the law after applicable notice.

Sources


Myth:

If a voter has ever had a felony conviction, that person is ineligible to vote in any election for the rest of his/her life.

Fact:

In Ohio, if you are not incarcerated for a felony conviction, you are eligible to vote (or register to vote), so long as you are otherwise qualified to vote.

The Details:

In Ohio, if you are not incarcerated (in prison or jail) for a felony conviction, you are eligible to vote (or register to vote), so long as you are otherwise a qualified elector. The key terms are convicted and incarcerated. Until you have been both convicted and incarcerated for a felony, you are eligible to both register to vote and vote in an election. This remains true even if you are in jail awaiting trial.

Once you are convicted and incarcerated, your voter registration is canceled. Once the jail or prison sentence has been completed, you are eligible to vote again, but you must re-register. A felony conviction does not prevent a person from voting once their sentence has been served, but you must re-register to vote to participate in future elections.

Sources

Videos

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Election Security
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Post-Election Process at BOE Warehouse
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Ohio's Post-Election Audits
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The Life of an Absentee Ballot
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