Let's say that someone wanted to abuse the write in option to vote for the candidate twice. Let's say someone selected Joe Biden (or Donald Trump, doesn't matter who) on the normal part of the ballot, and then selected that same person again. This is called overvoting. Is this illegal? Could I go to jail for doing this in practice?

Note: I am NOT planning to do this. I mean in practice because of a secret ballot.

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    It wouldn't be possible to prosecute someone for doing something like that without undermining secret ballot voting. I would suspect such a ballot would spend ages going through the court system before either counting as one vote for the candidate concerned, or as a spoiled ballot, depending on the laws of the relevant state.
    – Joe C
    Jun 2, 2020 at 16:52
  • That's what I thought...I was also thinking it would be counted once or not at all. I didn't think you could be prosecuted for that for that same reason. Jun 2, 2020 at 16:53
  • @Joe C: While each state and each county has their own laws and procedures, so this may not be the same everywhere. But I can attest that in my state of Ohio, the ballot CAN be tied to specific voter. Each ballot has a unique number, and that ballot number is recorded for that voter when the voter signs in the poll book. I don't know the purpose for doing so, but specific ballots can be linked to specific voter.
    – mharr
    Jun 3, 2020 at 3:23
  • If that would be counted twice, then just selecting multiple candidates would likely also be counted twice. Jun 3, 2020 at 6:44

1 Answer 1


Elections are handled at the state level, not federally. How exactly this works will depend on the state.

For example, if the state uses paper ballots counted by machine, doing this would mean marking two selections for President (or Governor, or Senator, or whatever) - the candidate themselves and the write-in space where you've written the candidate's name. Two things could happen here:

  1. Such an "overvote" would be considered invalid and not counted at all.
  2. The machine will be unable to count this vote, so it will initially not count as any vote until it can be manually reviewed. A human reviewer would recognize that it is a vote for the named candidate, and it would count as one vote for that candidate (unless the state where you do this has rules that render such "invalid" selections void, in which case it would count as no votes).

In states with more complex electronic voting machines, this scenario may not even be possible (e.g. you must make at most one selection and can't submit your ballot if it doesn't conform to certain rules governing validity).

  • I thought that is exactly what would happen. It would be foolish to let it count twice via a glitch Jun 2, 2020 at 17:19

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