Notarizing Absentee (or Vote-by-Mail) Ballots

An absentee or vote-by-mail ballot is a ballot cast in a United States election by mail, rather than at an official polling station. There are various reasons why a voter may choose to vote by mail rather than in person. Some states require that the voter have a good reason for requesting an absentee ballot, such as being stationed overseas in the military, or being homebound due to a disability. Other states allow any voter to use an absentee ballot. Each state also has different requirements on whether such a ballot requires notarization

First, the majority of states do not require that an absentee ballot be notarized or witnessed in any way. Instead, the voter signs the ballot, and an elections official compares the signature on the ballot to the voter's official signature on file. However, there are a handful of states where absentee ballots must be either witnessed or notarized - typically on the outer envelope, rather than the ballot itself.

If you are asked to notarize an absentee ballot, you should first be aware of any restrictions your state may impose on such a notarization. In addition, you should review the ballot to see what type of notarial act you are being asked to perform. Generally, the document will call for an oath or affirmation, in which case you must administer a verbal oath to the voter, after which the voter should sign in your presence. As with all notarizations, the signer should be properly identified. Be sure to comply with all other state laws regarding performing notarial acts, including adding any missing elements from the notarial certificate.

Notaries should also be aware of the different types of election-related forms that may need to be notarized. Some states require a notarized absentee ballot application or registration card to be filed by the voter before an absentee ballot is mailed - in which case two separate documents might require notarization.  In general, you should treat these like any other notarization - but remember to consult your state laws to make sure that there are no special provisions (such as a fee waiver) for notarization of absentee ballots.

As always, the laws governing notaries public and the laws governing election procedures vary from state to state. Be sure to consult your state laws or commissioning authority if you have concerns about notarizing an absentee or vote-by-mail ballot.

By Robert T. Koehler, a Contributing Writer with the American Association of Notaries, Inc.

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