# Does each ballot have a unique number?

In today's press conference, Link see at 46min 45 sec, Sidney Powell, attorney for Trump challenging the voting results in several states made the following statement"

"We have evidence of different numbers of ballots being injected into the system, the same identical unique six digit number multiple times, in at least two different states that we've analyzed so far." (emphasis added)

Question: Is she saying that each ballot is imprinted with a unique six digit number?

Followup: If so, is that unique number traceable to a specific voter?

EDITED TO ADD: Powell's statement's seem to either a conspiracy theory or a counfounding of disparate facts, please disregard her statements. (added by original poster)

• @BobE Can you give us a link to where this claim is made? I Googled the quote above, and this question is the only hit. Nov 19, 2020 at 21:15
• I've updated the quote slightly, with what I think is better punctuation for what she is saying. Nov 19, 2020 at 21:51
– Philipp
Nov 20, 2020 at 12:18
• Note that it's entirely likely that some states put a number on ballots to identify which precinct/polling place they are for. Nov 26, 2020 at 1:50
• @HotLicks I know for a fact that in my jurisdiction- when voting in person- the ballots and stubs are printed with the precinct number and a consecutive serial number (1,2,3,...). That specific serial number is entered into the pollbook for that precinct beside my name.
– BobE
Nov 26, 2020 at 5:14

This is purely math based but the answer to your specific question is 'no'.

There are only one million unique 6-digit numbers. There are far more than one million voters in the US. Hence there is not a unique 6-digit number per voter. A lot of individual states (but not all) have more than one million voters so the number couldn't even be unique for the voters of a state.

If one wanted a system of uniquely numbered ballots, the numbers would need to have a lot more digits. Say 12 for pure numbers or maybe 10 for alphanumerical codes.

• Unfortunately you have not benefited from the comments that were deleted. In those comments it was argued that the numbering of ballots is on a precinct level rather than a state level.
– BobE
Nov 21, 2020 at 14:37
• @BobE Just looking at the quote she talks about unique 6 digit numbers in two different states. Maybe with some context one can make this quote not trivially wrong but the way she said it is wrong even without invoking any specific knowledge of policies. Her fault, not mine :-) Nov 21, 2020 at 14:41
• After hearing the comments of others (some of which have been deleted by moderators) I'm on the verge of concluding that she is misstating things that they think they have "found" Unfortunately, I used her conflicting/confusing rhetoric to illustrate a question that I have about the traceability of a specific ballot back to a specific voter.
– BobE
Nov 21, 2020 at 16:38
• For alphanumeric (36 digits), 6 digits numbers gives 2 billion combinations, so 6 alphanumeric digits would be plenty to uniquely refer every single US vote. Nov 21, 2020 at 19:42

It varies by state from what I recall. In Texas they do have serial numbers:

Ballot Numbering Requirements: The Texas Election Code establishes the following ballot numbering requirements in order to track and account for the total number of ballots used in an election, how they were used, in what locations, and to account for the ballot stock that was unused Any ballots used in a Texas election must be (1) numbered consecutively, beginning with the number “1”, (2) numbered so that a specific range can be linked to a specific polling place, and (3) must be distributed to voters non-sequentially in order to preserve ballot secrecy. [...]

For electronic votes, the Texas numbering system is a bit different:

Ballot Tracking Through the Voting System Software: The procedures below have been approved by the Secretary of State’s office as a means of fulfilling ballot numbering requirements through the system software and/or the use of additional peripheral devices. Any vendor seeking to utilize a software solution for ballot numbering must have their solution approved by the Secretary of State.

ES&S ExpressVote – Tracking Ballot Numbers Through the ExpressVote Activation Card Printer/ExpressLink Software

Each ExpressVote Activation card printer that is assigned to a specific polling place will be given a two to three digit alpha code. This code will be printed on each Ballot Card as it is generated for the voter. In addition to the alpha code, each polling place will print a randomly generated serial number between 1 to 99,999 on the card along with the identifying information related to the election. The system will generate a report showing which ballots (based on their serial number) were used at each location. This report must be retained with your precinct election records. [...]

Now I don't exactly what the Trump representative is talking about in that video, but they seem to talk of something specific to Dominion machines. A number of claims related to these have been debunked by the media, however there doesn't seem to be a clear or specific-enough claim in that section of the video relating to these (serial?) numbers. In fact, I'm very inclined to agree with Giter's comment on that:

just listened to what she was saying around what you quoted, and it sounds like she's saying that two different states recorded the same six digit number of votes: "We have evidence of different numbers of votes being injected into the system, the same identical six digit number multiple times in at least two states that we've analyzed so far, and I'm talking like 341,542 votes for Biden, and 100,012 for Trump". In other words, I think the claim is that two states reported the same vote totals at some point, not anything about unique ballot IDs. – Giter

i.e. this is just some variation on the claim that the Dominion machines fabricated votes etc.

• Ohio: "Each ballot provided for use in each precinct must be numbered consecutively, beginning with the number 1, and must print the same ballot number upon both of the stubs attached to the ballot." ohiosos.gov/globalassets/elections/directives/2019/eom_12-2019/…
– BobE
Nov 20, 2020 at 5:02
• Thanks for the Texas citation, seems to be similiar to Ohio.. Reconsidering Gitner's commentary, I'm considering that Powell has misstated her claim. My alternate theory is that she is saying that (for example) that they saw reported 341, 542 votes being added to Biden's running count in (say) Michigan and 20 minutes later that exact same number of votes being reported as being added in (say) PA. Possibly she is relying on contemporaneous media reports during election night coverage. Regardless, her statements are a poor illustration to unravel the question of voter's secrecy.
– BobE
Nov 21, 2020 at 16:51
• I'm considering deleting the question, but I'd still like to give you credit for the Texas citation because it is an important clue in the issue of the secrecy of voter's choices.
– BobE
Nov 21, 2020 at 16:54
• It's not clear to me what that Ballot Card is that's referred to in your TX SOS link. I've voted in Texas for 35 years and in my district, we've used the Hart eSlate machines for the past 20+ years. My district, and most districts in Texas, have configured the eSlate system for Direct Record Electronic voting, i.e. no paper trail whatsoever for the voter. Perhaps there is a summary printed for the poll workers at the end of the day, but the individual voter gets no confirmation other than a summary screen on the device. Nov 23, 2020 at 23:17

The question is founded on (or at least illustrated by) the statements of Sidney Powell, who has subsequently been removed from the Trump legal team and whose statements (like the above) have been reported to be without foundation.

The question itself, that is, do US ballots have a imprinted numbering system so as to trace a specific ballot back to a specific voter is still a open question.

It appears that, at least in some jurisdictions, that that capacity does exist. If so, then the notion of a "secret" ballot is in jeopardy.

• It is certainly the case in Britain, and I did not discover that until I was a candidate at an election. And on first revelation I was as appalled as you are now that it seemed to jeopardise the notion of a secret ballot. But having reflected on it since I am convinced that it is more a safeguard to democracy than a threat. Imagine if there were no number at all. How would there be any way of knowing if multiple fake ballots had been introduced? The ballot papers would have to be security printed with expensive watermarks, and holograms in order to prevent fraud.
– WS2
Nov 23, 2020 at 16:16
• The contradictory requirements of fraud prevention and ballot secrecy are discussed exhaustively at this site.
– WS2
Nov 23, 2020 at 16:30
• @WS2 interesting information from around the world, however I was most interested in the United States. There seems to be a broad consensus (among voters) that their voting choices are sacred, safe, secure and secret. OTOH, a numbering system that would allow the identity of the voter's choices to be revealed (to anyone, including election officials) would tend to undermine that sense of "sacred, safe, secure and secret"
– BobE
Nov 29, 2020 at 15:57
• The problem you have in the US right now is that one party to the recent election does not accept the result, alleging fraud. Nonsensical though this may appear to most, it would be helpful to any judicial inquiry if an audit trail were available. But as I understand it the envelopes (at least those in Pennsylvania) were the only part which contained voter-identification and they have been separated from the ballots. If I had to chose between the avoidance of election fraud and absolute total voter secrecy, I would certainly choose the former.
– WS2
Nov 29, 2020 at 19:53
• The other problem about putting ballots in envelopes is that it vastly increases the work of counting, as all the envelopes have to be opened. In the UK, ballots are numbered and there are no envelopes. You simply fold the paper before putting it in the padlocked ballot box. I am unsure of how long after the election they are kept, but in my lifetime (which began during WW2) I have never heard of a case of ballots being improperly accessed after the event.
– WS2
Nov 29, 2020 at 19:53