Donald Trump said this in 2020

On your ballots, if you get the unsolicited ballots, send it in and then go make sure it counted, and then if it doesn’t tabulate, you vote. YouTube video

But did that ever happen — for some votes to not get tabulated?

If yes, then what happened after the error was discovered?

  • Please clarify whether "US votes" is meant to indicate "all US votes" or "some US votes".
    – agc
    Sep 10, 2020 at 5:25
  • @agc Is that point really unclear? Surely we can all agree that it is definitely not the case that "all US votes" are being lost/ignored/misplaced... Sep 10, 2020 at 15:40
  • And Trump is clearly referring to that particular voter's vote.
    – Barmar
    Sep 10, 2020 at 15:44
  • Some votes ofc not all votes
    – Joe Jobs
    Sep 10, 2020 at 16:07
  • 4
    With the amount of votes cast in US history in various types of elections over 200+ years, there's no way that there has never been at least 1 that wasn't counted. The question is on what scale does this happen? Sep 10, 2020 at 18:44

4 Answers 4


Ballots can certainly be lost or delayed in the mail. Ballots can be delivered successfully but rejected because the signature didn't match what the state had on file. Rarely, ballots can also be misplaced. Ballots can also be rejected because of issues with the postmark but presumably not if you're looking to see whether your ballot was accepted prior to election day. And, again presumably not what was being referenced in the quote, there can be issues with a particular ballot that may cause it not to count-- things like voting for multiple candidates, voting for a candidate but then writing in that same candidate, etc. These are the sorts of issues that were at issue in the 2000 Bush v Gore Florida recount. In the most recent New York primary, more than 20% of the ballots that were delivered were rejected and undoubtedly a few percent of the ballots never reached their destination.

As for what happens, it depends. If ballots never arrive, arrive too late, or arrive after the election without a postmark, that is almost certainly uncurable (that is, the votes simply won't count). Most if not all jurisdictions give voters the ability to cure an issue with a signature on a ballot by showing up and confirming that the signature is really yours but the window to do so isn't particularly long and the processes to notify the voter are generally not terribly user-friendly. Other issues, like finding boxes of ballots after the election or disputes about whether a particular ballot can be counted despite some defect in filling it out, would likely require a judge to sort out what happens.

  • If my ballot did not arrive - but not because of me, then can I get a chance to vote in person?
    – Joe Jobs
    Sep 9, 2020 at 20:21
  • @JoeJobs - Probably, but it would be jurisdiction dependent. In Michigan, for example, you can go to the clerk's office in person prior to election day to spoil your ballot and then vote in person (or get a new absentee ballot that you personally deliver). Whether every state has a procedure to spoil ballots, particularly in states that haven't had universal mail-in ballots prior to COVID-19 I don't know. Sep 9, 2020 at 20:28
  • And then Trump should have said instead ".. if it doesn’t tabulate, you spoil and then you vote"
    – Joe Jobs
    Sep 9, 2020 at 20:46
  • @JoeJobs UR "it it doesn't tabulate" quote. Without clarity from DJT, it's unclear what he means by "tabulate". If he means: 'was your voting choices recorded and added to the bulk of all other votes' (the normal definition of tabulation), that may not be known to election officials when the in-person polls open. The thing that election officials may know is if an envelope has arrived that may or may not contain a ballot. In some jurisdictions election officials are prohibited (by statute) from beginning to process mailed ballots until election day.
    – BobE
    Sep 10, 2020 at 0:47
  • @JoeJobs As far as I know, if you're really that worried, there's always the option to cast a provisional ballot. This will not be counted if you've already voted in that jurisdiction, and have been commonly used in the past for cases in which the voter's eligibility needs to be confirmed. The problem is that our president did not say to cast a provisional ballot, but rather to "just vote", which is explicitly illegal. Sep 10, 2020 at 11:56

According to election materials I've seen in a number of jurisdictions, votes for write-in candidates will only be tabulated for if the candidates are officially registered. Registering as a write-in candidate doesn't require any demonstration that one could expect to receive any particular number of votes, but registration requirements among other things facilitate tabulation. They also avoid situations where "John Smith" receives a plurality of the votes, and both John Jacob Smith and John Henry Smith proclaim themselves as winners, as well as arguments about whether a semi-legible ballot is actually a vote for John Smith or someone else (if e.g. a ballot is J[scribble] S[scribble], and no other registered candidate has initials J.S., that would support a claim by John Smith that the ballot is a vote for him). Further, they prevent situations where an election might be "won" by someone who never having had any intention to run, nor desire to hold the office, nor even in some cases actual physical existence (I think some local elections without such rules have been won by "candidates" such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck).

While I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are some jurisdictions that will by default only process certain hard-to-count ballots for "normal candidates" if formally asked to do so, I have no particular knowledge of such, and I would expect that such jurisdictions would, at absolute minimum, provide a means by which anyone wishing to pay for a full detailed count would be able to demand one.

I suspect that the claim that some manually-written paper ballots go uncounted may be lumping together manually-written ballots cast as write-ins for non-registered candidates (which would often go uncounted) versus paper ballots cast for registered candidates.


Yes, it has happened that some US votes have not been tabulated, and where this is known, not even retabulated.

For example, consider the 11/22/2000 "Brooks Brothers Riot", that many believe had, (one way or another), a decisive effect on the 2000 US Presidential Election, wherein a small organized horde of posturing, domineering, middle-age Republican paid zealots were deployed to bully and delay Miami-Dade canvassers attempting to recount the 10,750 remaining poorly-designed ballots that their elections computer was unable to tally.

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The riot, planned by the notorious Roger Stone, and ably orchestrated out of a nearby winnebago made into an impromptu wireless command center, made it impossible for the frightened canvassers to complete the recount prior to the deadline of 11/26/2000 set by the Florida Supreme Court. So the 10,750 ballots were not counted as votes.

Three weeks later, voting on partisan lines, the United States Supreme Court mooted the Florida Supreme Court's recount order, but nobody really knows if those 10,750 Miami-Dade ballots had been tallied, and if, (since Miami-Dade usually votes Democrat), the resulting votes had put Gore to win Florida, as to whether or not the resulting changes in public opinion might have inclined the Supreme Court to demur.

  • Interesting. Why they did not call the Police so they can count votes in safety?
    – Joe Jobs
    Sep 11, 2020 at 10:57
  • @JoeJobs, Not sure; the rioters were obviously well organized, and may have planned for more police attention to create more drama for the TV cameras present. The public record shows the rioters were making a stink about the chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party carrying a blank Democrat training ballot, (which rioters incorrectly claimed was a real ballot), and the rioters themselves called the police, but the police quickly learned that the claim was unfounded.
    – agc
    Sep 11, 2020 at 14:03

It's actually routine for ballots to not be counted. Absentee ballots are typically only a small percentage of the total vote, if it's impossible for the ballots to change the outcome they don't count them.

Given the comments, let me expand upon this: If any item on the ballot could possibly be decided by the absentee ballots they have to be counted. It doesn't matter if the president has already been decided, if you have 100 absentee ballots and Mr. X is ahead by 99 running for assistant dogcatcher (not that I have ever seen dogcatcher on the ballot) you still have to count.

  • 3
    You should source this. I would be surprised if in major elections all ballots were not counted even after the winner is known for certain, if only to provide official results with the exact percentage of vote for each candidate - I may be wrong, but I wanna see some evidence before I am convinced.
    – Evargalo
    Sep 10, 2020 at 9:42
  • 5
    I don't have enough reputation to downvote, but -1. This just plain isn't true. For example, California spends weeks after each presidential election certifying its results by counting all of its absentee ballots, even though the election is called in California halfway through election night; it's for this reason that states don't generally send their official popular vote totals to the FEC until much later than the election. Sep 10, 2020 at 12:01
  • But isn’t that why they do, in fact, count all the absentee ballots, even if it might not be possible for them to change any specific outcome?
    – divibisan
    Sep 10, 2020 at 17:26
  • 1
    This is still not true, excepting some small jurisdiction somewhere. For the largest state in the country, "All valid vote-by-mail ballots are counted in every election in California, regardless of the outcome or closeness of any race." sos.ca.gov/elections/voter-registration/vote-mail Sep 10, 2020 at 19:06
  • Re "if you have 100 absentee ballots and Mr. X is ahead by 99 running for assistant dogcatcher (not that I have ever seen dogcatcher on the ballot) you still have to count.": please clarify whether this means that all 100 absentee ballots must be counted, or could they stop counting as soon as two ballots are for Mr. X.
    – agc
    Sep 11, 2020 at 2:26

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