Illustration by Alyssa Goodenow

Illustration by Alyssa Goodenow

Deciphering Your Ballot

Published November 2, 2023

Deciphering Your Ballot

First-time voter guide to reading ballots

By Nyla Gilbert | The Beat

Voting can be a nerve-wracking thing. Especially for first-time voters. There are many uncertainties when going to the polls for the first time, including confusion on how to fill out ballots. In this article, you will get resources and necessary information on how to properly read a ballot so you can vote effectively and make informed decisions at the polls.

Here are a few steps on how to read a ballot for this year’s upcoming election:

Step 1: Knowing what is on your ballot

The first step to reading a ballot is knowing what is on it. Knowing beforehand what decision you want to make makes the process of understanding the ballot much easier. Never go into an election blind. You should understand the background of every issue and candidate every time you vote.

You don’t want to think you made the right decision and then realize that you did not vote for what you believed.

When it comes to voting on issues, the ballot may tell you what an issue may allow if it is passed; however, it does not tell you how it will be implemented. You should know how something is to be implemented and whether it will be in the best interest of you and your community.

Step 2: Read the voter instructions

Once you have actually received your ballot, whether it is your paper or electronic ballot, you will see a section that says “Instructions To Voter.” This will be your voting syllabus for filling out your ballot.

This will give you a guideline on how to mark off answers effectively and what to look out for when checking answers. For city elections, you may have to vote for multiple people on the Board of Education or on the City Council.

It will also tell you what is not allowed and what may cause your ballot to not be counted if filled out wrong. Things like voting for more people than what is allowed in a given section may cause that section of your ballot to not be counted.

There may also be some helpful advice, like what to do if you make a mistake or want to change your vote before having it counted. If you do make a mistake, you can return your ballot to an election official and get a new ballot twice if necessary.

Step 3: Voting on the ballot

Unfortunately, ballots will not tell you what a candidate's stance is. So, go into it educated. On a ballot, either underneath or next to the voter instructions, you will see the column with the candidates for official positions.

Here you will fill in the oval circle next to the name of the person you want elected into that position. Make sure to pay attention to the number of people you are allowed to vote for; do not go over or under. It may affect the validity of your vote.

Issues appear differently on your ballot. The first thing you will notice about the column or page is the bolded name of the issues or candidates you are deciding on. Underneath the titled issue, you will get the details of what will be ratified if it were to pass. It will provide you with all the laws that will then be added to your state constitution.

Underneath the information on the issues, there will be a small section that states how long it will take an amendment to go into effect. In this upcoming election, amendments will go into effect within 30 days of the election.

The final, most important part of your ballot is the box at the bottom. Underneath all of the information on the issues will be the box that allows you to either reject or pass the law. Under the large, bold letters, “SHALL THIS AMENDMENT BE APPROVED?” fill in the yes or no circles. Other things like proposed laws and tax levies will have similar language but will be specific to the type of legislation it is.

Voting is important. Being an informed voter is even more important. By using these tools, you can be assured that you have not only filled it out correctly, but have also made informed decisions.

AUTHOR: Nyla Gilbert

EDITOR: Grace Brezine

COPY EDITOR: Addie Hedges

ILLUSTRATION: Alyssa Goodenow