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Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Colorado's 2020 ballot. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Life happens and sometimes it spills onto your mail-in ballot, kind of like coffee or red wine. Or maybe a toddler grabs your sealed envelope and tears it open.

So how do you fix it? Colorado election officials get these questions all the time, so we consulted the Secretary of State’s Office and talked with La Plata County Clerk Tiffany Parker and Boulder County elections spokeswoman Mircalla Wozniak to get some answers.

MORE: You asked, we investigated. Here’s answers to your questions about voting in Colorado

Before we get there, election officials want you to know the basics.

  • If you’re wondering whether you are registered to vote, you can check at
  • If you want to know when your ballot was mailed and when it’s accepted, sign up for ballot tracking.
  • County clerks are ready to answer other questions, too. This list includes websites, phone numbers and emails.

Here’s a look at common problems with ballots and how to fix them.

What if I accidentally tossed my mail ballot in the trash or recycling? Can I get another one?

Yes, contact your county clerk’s office and let them know what happened; they’ll mail you a new one or you can arrange to pick one up. Some counties are offering curbside services. If this happens after Oct. 26, it’s better to go to a voting center to get a replacement because there’s not enough time to get a ballot in the mail.

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I spilled coffee on my ballot. How do I know if it’s too damaged to return?

You may ask your county clerk’s election office for a replacement or go to a vote center to get a new ballot.

If you decide to dry off and vote the damaged ballot, it’s likely to get flagged by the bipartisan team of judges during the process. If they determine the ballot can’t be read by a machine, they’ll replicate your ballot choices as provided by state election rules, according to Wozniak. 

Also, it isn’t just wine or coffee that can mar a ballot. “We usually get at least one smashed bug per election,” she said.

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I think I forgot to sign my ballot envelope. What do I do?

If you didn’t sign your envelope, you’ll get a letter (and potentially an email) from your county clerk giving you an opportunity to sign with instructions on how to do so. This year, once you’re notified of the problem, you’ll be able to fix this problem by texting a number from your mobile device and using a link that will be sent to you.

Make sure you’re signed up for ballot tracking. That way you’ll know if your ballot was accepted. 

My husband and I put our ballots in the wrong envelopes. What should we do?

The biggest issue here is if you signed each other’s envelopes because it’s the envelope that’s checked against your signature. There’s no connection between the ballot and the envelope, Parker said. If the signature on the envelope is wrong, deliver the ballots in person and explain what happened. 

If you’ve already mailed or dropped off your ballot, contact your county clerk’s election office and let them know. Wozniak said this happens fairly often, and is typically caught by election officials especially if the ballots were delivered at the same time.

My grandson tore open my envelope. The ballot was not damaged. Can I just tape the envelope closed and mail it?

The ballot will be fine if you mail it in, though you could also request a new envelope from your county clerk. 

It’s possible the envelope will have to be processed separately because of the tape. But if there’s any problem, elections officials will contact you.

I used an X instead of filling in the bubble. Will my ballot be counted?

Most likely — though it’s better to fill in the bubbles. 

In some instances, machines may be able to read such a ballot. “The machine is very sensitive to any kind of marking in the oval. The majority of the time it’s going to go through as a marked vote,” said Parker, who’s also president of the Colorado County Clerks Association. If that doesn’t work, a bipartisan team of election judges may need to replicate the ballot.

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I made a mistake and filled out the wrong bubble. I crossed it out and filled out the other one. Is that OK?

If it’s clear to you, it likely will be clear to the election judges, Wozniak said.

To do it properly, the ballot instructions say to draw a line through the name of candidate or issue marked by mistake and completely fill in the other oval with the correct choice.

Do I have to vote in every race and for every issue on the ballot?

No. You may vote only in the races you’re interested in and leave others blank. Wozniak said this is a frequent question from new voters.

I realized I put my ballot in a dropoff box in the wrong county. How do I fix it?

It’s OK. Your ballot will be date-stamped to show it arrived in time, then delivered to the correct county and counted. (You aren’t alone! Neighboring counties actually set up arrangements to deliver or exchange ballots to get them to the right place.)

I put my ballot in the mail without a stamp. What should I do?

The ballot requires 55 cents postage, or a Forever stamp. If you don’t have a stamp, you should bring the ballot to a drop-off location. 

The U.S. Postal Service will still get your ballot to the elections office. But the county will have to pay the postage. If you want to make sure it was received, you can track your ballot.

I live part time in Colorado and part time in another state. Can I still vote in Colorado?

Colorado law requires voters to declare a single, primary residence for voting. So no, you can’t vote in two states. 

Also, you must be a Colorado resident for at least 22 days prior to Election Day. In some cases, voters may be eligible to vote in two places, but only in the situation of an independent, special election for local property owners.

What if I want to vote in person?

Colorado will open more than 340 vote centers Monday. You may vote at a voting service and polling center through 7 p.m. Election Day with some weekend hours depending on the county. You may find your nearest vote center and hours of operation at the secretary of state’s website.

Staff writer Jennifer Brown contributed to this report.

This story is part of a project produced with support from a grant from the American Press Institute.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette