Counties Address Concerns Over Holes in Mail-In Ballots

Republican distrust of the election process is at an all-time high. With the recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom just weeks away, conservatives are expressing a new fear — that a pair of holes on mail-in ballot envelopes could reveal how they voted and be used to disenfranchise their votes.

The concerns originated with a TikTok video that was shared by Donald Trump’s former acting intelligence director Ric Grennel.

"This is the sketchy part. This is the crazy part," the woman in the video says.

"You have to pay attention to these two holes that are in the front of the envelope. You can see if someone, from the outside of the mail-in ballot, you can see if somebody has voted yes to recall Newsom. This is very sketchy and irresponsible in my opinion, but this is asking for fraud."

Newsom “needs to be asked if his team did this on purpose. This is cheating,” said Grennel.

We tried it on our own LA County ballot envelope. To position the ballot so that a “yes” selection can be viewed through the hole, the front of the ballot must be facing the back. To ensure privacy, voters should make sure the front of the ballot is facing the front of the envelope.

LA County isn’t the only one that puts holes through its mail-in envelopes. Conservative Placer County has them too. So do Nevada and Sacramento. While voter selection can potentially be seen on the LA and Placer envelopes, the problem does not appear to affect ballots in Sacramento. Counties such as Orange don’t have the holes at all.

So what are the holes for anyway? Janna Haynes, Sacramento County's voter registration and elections spokesperson, gave the following explanation, which more or less aligns with the response from other counties like LA:

“The first and most important reason is for accessibility for visually impaired voters. We got some feedback from our blind community and from the secretary of state's office that in order for blind voters to be able to identify where the signature line is on the envelope, which is very important for them to sign, that this would provide them some individuality and autonomy to vote on their own.”

The second reason is “that after we open the envelope, take out the ballot and process it, we can visually tell immediately whether or not that envelope is empty to make sure that no ballot paper is left behind.”

This is not the first time ballot holes have raised questions, nor is this an issue limited to counties in the Golden State. In 2016, a TV station in Salt Lake City, Utah ran a story on the holes in ballot envelopes there. Utah election officials had a similar explanation for the circular voids.

“The reason for that is, when they come back to us, we want to make sure, after they're run through our machine and the ballot is removed from the envelope, even though it's an automated process, that there isn't a ballot left in the envelope,” said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen. A series of photos included with the story show black zip ties being used to bind sets of mail-in ballots. The zip ties are strung through the holes.