What Happens to Paper Ballots After Election Day?
Ever wonder what happens to those paper ballots after you cast your vote?
It’s been a busy election season, and now that the votes are cast, you’re probably wondering what happens to those paper ballots once the election is over.
Despite our reliance on technology to make processes easier, when it comes to voting, technology has only added more strife and suspicion, so many states still employ the use of paper ballots, which are then scanned and tallied.
Are these ballots stored? If so, for how long? What happens to the ballots once they’ve met their retention period?
Similar to other documents, ballots do have a retention period as mandated by federal law. According to U.S. code, ballots and other records related to any federal election—that means for the Office of the President, U.S. Senate, or U.S. House of Representatives—must be kept for at least two years.
After that, it is up to the states to decide what to do with them. Usually the election boards decide on the details, like storage and destruction.
There are different types of paper ballots, such as optical scan paper ballot systems, which allow voters to mark their votes by filling in a box. These ballots are scanned either at the polling place or at a central location. There are also punch card voting systems, in which a voter punches holes in the card to cast a vote. The pattern of holes in the card indicates the votes cast. The ballot may then be placed in a box to be tabulated manually or scanned by a computer later.
Here is an interesting fact about paper ballots: According to the Federal Election Commission of the United States of America, our paper ballot system originated in Australia. It was the Australian state of Victoria in 1856 that first adopted the paper ballot system. It was then known as the “Australian ballot,” and it was the state of New York that became the first U.S. state to adopt the paper ballot for statewide elections in 1889.
So, what happens once the two years are up and the ballots are no longer required to be retained? Let’s look at the infamous election of 2000. In Florida, it was required that the ballots be stored due to its information laws. In these instances, the ballots are bundled by polling station, boxed by jurisdiction, and stored in a warehouse. Some jurisdictions have a law that the ballots must be destroyed once the election is certified. In those jurisdictions, the ballots are usually shredded upon certification.
And there you have it! Shredding is prevalent in many aspects of our society, whether it’s business, residential, and even political.
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