Fact Check: California Ballot Envelopes DO Contain Holes -- But Voter Information Is Protected

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: California Ballot Envelopes DO Contain Holes -- But Voter Information Is Protected Holey Theory

Do California ballots have holes in them so that others can see how someone voted? No, that's not true: A spokesperson for California's secretary of state told Lead Stories that the holes in ballot envelopes were included to aid California voters who have "low vision" in finding where to sign on the envelope. There are also ways to orient the ballot in the envelope so that the vote marking is not visible through the holes. And, the spokesperson said, not all California counties use ballot envelopes with holes.

The story appeared from an Instagram post (archived here) published on August 19, 2021. It opened:

CALIFORNIA: Make sure no one can see how you voted! Share this California! Pretty ridiculous I have to even say this but please watch this video to make sure you place your ballot back in the envelope so that no one can see how you voted. Reason #635,890 why mail in voting is ripe for fraud.

This is how the post looked at the time of writing:

A woman speaking on a video in the post places a ballot in an envelope and says:

You have to pay attention to these two holes that are in the front of the envelope ... you can see if someone has voted 'yes' to recall Newsom. This is very sketchy and irresponsible in my opinion but this is asking for fraud.

A special election on whether to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled for September 14, 2021.

We reached out to the California secretary of state's office, and a spokesperson responded by email on August 20, 2021, saying:

The design of the ballot return envelope is not new and has been used for several election cycles -- and the design is recommended accessibility practice by civic design consultants. The intent and purpose of the holes are two-fold, to assist with accessibility for low vision votes to locate where to sign the envelope and to ensure no ballots were missed and left in envelopes once our office has received and processed them. It is important to note that voters have control of how they place their ballot in the envelope and have multiple options for returning their ballots (mail, Ballot Drop Box, or at a Vote Center) to ensure secure and appropriate handling. Additionally, voters can track the status of their returned ballot through Ballot Trax - a free tracking application operated by the Secretary of State that will notify the voter when our office received the ballot and that it will be counted. No, not every county has ballot return envelopes with holes in them, just those that followed Civic Design Consultant's recommendations for accessibility.

Lead Stories examined a Los Angeles County voter's blank ballot and envelope. A specific placement of the ballot in the envelope has to be made for it to align with the hole to make the bubble for "yes" on the recall visible, as shown in the image below.

The hole is only on the back of the ballot envelope, so the ballot has to be put in facing the hole and oriented a certain way for the ballot bubble to be visible. If the ballot is placed in the envelope any other way, the bubble would not be visible.

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Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

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