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VERIFY: Do you have to use a black ink pen on mail-in ballots in DC, Maryland and Virginia?

A tweet with 45,000 likes and more than 31,000 retweets says, "If you’re an absentee voter in Virginia use a black pen only." We verified that is false.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Do you have to use a black ink pen on mail-in ballots in D.C., Maryland and Virginia for your ballot to count?

ANSWER:

No, you do not have to use only a black ink pen.

SOURCES:

Virginia Department of Elections- spokesperson

D.C. Board of Elections- spokesperson

Maryland State Board of Elections Deputy Administrator Nikki Charlson 

PROCESS:

A tweet with 45,000 likes and more than 31,000 retweets claims that mail-in ballots must be completed using black ink.

"If you’re an absentee voter in Virginia use a BLACK pen only," the tweet reads. "Instructions say blue or black, official ballot says just black. Called registrars office and it’s black only.”

That tweet lead to a a lot of people double checking their ballots:

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Our Verify team worked to get info for our whole region. So we're verifying: do you have to use a black ink pen on mail-in ballots in D.C., Maryland and Virginia?

Our Verify researchers contacted election officials in all three jurisdictions. 

"Blue or black pens are both acceptable,” a Virginia Department of Elections spokesperson said.

So what would happen if someone used another color besides blue or black?

"If there is any issue with a ballot being read by a machine, the ballot is hand counted,” a Virginia Department of Elections spokesperson said. 

In Maryland, Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections confirmed that ballots are valid with any pen color or pencil.

Credit: Erin Spaht
"A black pen" is listed under under "instructions" on Maryland's mail-in ballots. Does that mean you can't fill out the ballot with a blue pen?

Black, blue or any dark colored inks are preferable. 

Certain ink colors may not be able to be read by their scanners and in that case, Charlson said a “bipartisan pair of election officials” will copy the information to another ballot with a black ink pen, so that the ballot can be counted.

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Credit: Erin Spaht
Close-up of the instructions listed on a Maryland mail-in ballot. "A black pen" is listed.

In D.C., blue or black pens are recommended. If you use another color, and the ballot is rejected by the scanner, DC Board of Elections staff member will duplicate it to a new ballot so it can be processed.

So we can Verify, this claim is false. You can vote using either blue or black pens, and there’s a procedure in place if you use another color. 

RELATED: Some DC voters received mail-in ballots before drop boxes have been installed