weird absentee ballot experience

I thought of putting this on GQ, since I do have a question: what the hell is going on? But maybe this forum is better. But if someone can explain it, so much the better.

My wife and I are both ex-pat Americans and our state of last residence was the sinkhole, er state, of Illinois. So we got our ballots (federal offices only) about a month ago, filled them out and mailed them off. The ballot consists of the ballot proper where you mark your choices with an x and put no other markings, an inner envelope in which you put your ballot and seal and an outer mailer in which you put the signed, sealed inner envelope. So we did that. The outer envelopes did have return addresses on them, but I don’t think they are legally necessary.

Two weeks later we got essentially identical letters from the voting registrar, say that I had signed the envelope containing my wife’s ballot and vice versa. Does this mean that someone had the job of comparing the signatures on the inner envelope with the return address on the outer one? I guess our signatures are more or less legible, but do they really do that?

Now it gets weird. Included with the letters were new inner envelopes and outer envelopes. We were invited to sign the inner envelopes, leaving them unsealed and stuff them into the outer envelope and mail them back. Does this mean that someone is going to open the old sealed envelopes, take our ballots out and stuff them them into the new inner envelopes and seal them? Without looking, needless to add. I find this whole thing utterly bizarre. More bizarre the more I think about it. Does anyone have even a quasi-rational explanation?

What is the purpose of the inner envelope?

I assume that it is to make sure no one turns in two ballots. But that was not what happened. Apparently, I must have signed the inner ballot that was in the envelope with my wife’s return address and vice versa. But neither of us voted twice.

What is terminally weird is that presumably someone will open that inner envelope (that is presumably to be opened only when ballots are counted) and what? Take the ballot out of the envelope that I signed and put it into the new envelope my wife signed and vice versa? What sense does that make. Now her ballot will be in my envelope and hers in mine. Which is likelier: that I put the wrong return address or that I signed the wrong envelope? Surely the former.

I was an election ballot signature verifier. (Just for today, and in Colorado so the usual caveats apply). We were counting mail-in ballots as they came in or were dropped off.

We had a situation just as you describe. The signature on the envelope is compared to the signature on file in the computer before the ballot is pulled out for reading. If the sigs don’t match, the ballot may be rejected. However, since there are people doing the verifying, we can sometimes figure out what happened, as in your case.

As for sending in a signed envelope, when we were processing ballots today, there had to be an equal count for each batch of 1. signed envelope, 2. ballot stub, 3. ballot. I believe there is a number on the envelope that corresponds to the ballot stub so even though once the ballot stub is detached you can’t put a person to a ballot, you can verify that they actually submitted one using the stub/signature combo.

And yes, we were certainly able to look at the ballots while stacking them for reading. You just… didn’t.

I’m confused. The purpose of the inner envelope I thought was so that, once the ballot is received, it can be sent to the counters, who will have no idea who you are. Part of the point of our system is that it is closed ballot. No person is supposed to know who I’ve voted for unless I volunteer that information.

They don’t know who you voted for, but they know that you voted. They have a list that says that absentee ballot 192 went to John Smith and absentee ballot 193 went to Mary Smith. So if they look at absentee ballot envelope 192 and see that its been signed by Mary Smith, and look at absentee ballot envelope 193 and see that it’s signed by John Smith, they know that John and Mary Smith mixed up their ballots.

I will have to accept Alpine’s explanation, although I could have sworn that we each put our ballots in our own envelope and signed them. It never occurred to me that our signatures would be compared to the signatures on file when we asked for absentee ballots. But it makes sense.

Out of curiosity, what happens if those counts don’t agree?

As I said, I’m only offering about 6 hours worth of experience, but we worked in batches of @20-30, so it usually meant you missed tearing off a stub in that batch.