Can I Leave Blanks on a Voting Ballot?

Yes, you can leave blank spaces on your ballot. It is not illegal to do so. By law, election officials must count all ballots, even those containing blanks.

Voting Basics

In our representative government, voting is how we elect people to represent us. Only eligible registered voters can vote. In the U.S., voter eligibility criteria include:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Over 18 (by or on Election Day)
  • Fulfill the residency requirements in your state
  • Completing voter registration in your state by the state's deadline

In the U.S, we have many different types of elections, including the following:

  • General elections
  • Primary elections
  • Special elections

General Elections

Each election type has a purpose. For example, in general elections, often held on the second Tuesday in November (Election Day), you can vote for the following:

  • President
  • Governor
  • U.S. Senators
  • State Senators
  • U.S Representative
  • State Representatives

General elections are typically held every four years and include presidential candidates on the ballot. You can vote for candidates for other offices if their term is ending.

Primary Elections

In primary elections, you help shape general elections by selecting your preferred candidate within a particular political party. In some states, only registered members of a political party can vote in its primary. Candidates who win primary elections go on to represent their political party in a general election.

Special Elections

States and localities hold special elections for special circumstances, such as filling a vacant government seat outside a general election. For example, if your congressional representative quits their seat before their term ends, your governor may call a special election to fill their seat.

How To Vote

Election administration is a state function, so your state sets voting rules through its secretary of state. Your state elections office or board determines polling place locations and hours for voting. You should always check your secretary of state's website or the National Conference of Secretaries of State for updated information. Some states have local election offices to help with voter registration or local election administration.

Voting Options

You have several options to cast your ballot. Depending on where you live, you can vote by mail, in person, or through an absentee ballot. You can also participate in early voting or vote on Election Day. You have many choices to exercise your constitutional right to vote.

Vote by Mail

Some states, like Oregon, conduct their elections entirely by mail. Everyone in the state automatically receives a mail-in ballot, which they send back in a return envelope with their signature on the envelope. Voters can also deposit their ballot into a designated drop box.

County election officials may compare the voter's signature on the envelope to the signature on their voter registration form before tabulating the vote by mail ballot. If you lose or misplace your ballot before Election Day, you can request a replacement ballot from your state's board of elections.

Requesting a Ballot

Vote by mail is an option in states that do not conduct their elections entirely by mail. Depending on state laws, you can request a mail-in ballot without an excuse. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia allow registered voters to request a mail-in ballot without requiring an excuse. In 20 states, registered voters need a valid excuse to request a mail-in ballot.

Valid excuses for mail-in ballot requests include the following:

  • Disability (permanent or temporary)
  • Absence from your state on Election Day (absentee voting)
  • You are in the military (or part of a military family)
  • Poll worker

Vote In Person

Many of us are most familiar with in-person voting. Before you head to your local polling place, confirm with your local election office. Once you arrive, you should check in with a poll worker who will likely ask for government-issued photo identification. Your driver's license or passport are two examples of government-issued voter identification. You should consult your local or county election office for more information on voter ID.

Provisional Ballot

Identification issues should not prohibit you from casting a ballot. Election officials should provide you with a provisional ballot. Local election officials will confirm your registration record before counting your vote.


Once the election worker confirms your identification, you are ready to vote. Unless there is a problem with the voting machines, you should expect to cast your vote electronically. You can ask for a sample ballot to familiarize yourself with the candidates if necessary. Once inside the voting booth, you can vote as you please. Depending on the circumstances in the election, you can vote for a write-in candidate or a ballot measure.

Leaving Blanks on Your Ballot

Voting is a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. You can vote for all candidates on a ballot or none. Moreover, you have a right to privacy when you vote, meaning no one can accompany you in the voting booth unless you request help. You do not have to explain your choices, even if your choice is nothing.

Reasons People Leave Blanks on Their Ballot

There are several reasons voters leave black on their ballots.

First, many voters do not feel sufficiently informed about their choices, whether their choice is a candidate or a referendum issue. These voters prefer to leave portions of their ballot empty instead of casting an uninformed vote. And that is their right to do so.

However, you should note that these executives, legislators, and ballot measures can impact you directly. We elect everyone from the president of the U.S. to your local animal control officer. County and city council members, school board members, and local judges make decisions that can impact your life. Your vote is your voice, whether the candidate is local or national.

Protest Votes

Other registered voters leave blanks on their ballots as a form of protest. Voters who want to express discontent with a political party or candidate can leave blanks on their ballots. About 1.7 million people left the presidential election portion of their ballots blank in 2016. These voters leave blanks in the hopes of sending a political message.

If you wish to cast a protest vote, don't deface the ballot or fill in a portion incorrectly. Doing so risks classification as a spoiled ballot and not counted. When a close race results in a recount, many states examine ballots closely to determine the voter's intent. Don't partially mark a ballot you don't mean to mark in full.

Get Legal Help

You should be fine leaving blanks on your ballot. If you encounter any issues, you should speak to a supervisor at your polling station. If you need additional help, you should speak to a civil rights attorney. They can provide sound legal advice and help you protect your voting rights. Speak to an experienced civil rights attorney today.

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