WTTW News Explains: What Happens to Your Ballot After You Vote?

You’ve done your research. Made your choices. Cast your ballot.

What happens next?

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In Chicago, when you feed your ballot into a machine on Election Day, you’re essentially putting it in a ballot box with two compartments.

Ballots with write-in candidates stay separate in one compartment – election judges will count these by hand at the end of the night.

All other ballots are scanned and counted by the machine – lucky for the judges, otherwise it would be a LOT of counting. 

Once the polls close, the machine spits out a tape of the totals, like a receipt.

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Election judges work in bipartisan teams at each precinct to keep an eye on everything and then sign the receipt to certify the results.

Their signature attests that the ballots were not compromised during the day, and it’s legally binding.

But it’s not all high tech. 

The paper ballots that got fed into the machine don’t get tossed. They go into a big, blue hard-shell case on wheels, packed up with a pretty bow – or, rather, a security seal to ensure nobody messes with the precious cargo.

From then on, anyone who touches the case has to sign a chain of custody form. Like evidence in one of those TV procedural dramas.

Suitcases from every Chicago precinct go to a warehouse where they stay – signed, sealed, delivered – for at least 22 months. Just in case.

By law, a state audit recounts votes from 5% of all precincts.

Procedure differs slightly for voting by mail, early voting, and those who vote overseas. But not by much – all legitimate ballots are counted, kept secure at every turn and end up in the same warehouse for safekeeping.

So, wear that sticker with pride and peace of mind. Happy voting!

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