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Sweaty ballots? Here's how humidity and certain ballot paper types can affect the voting process

A viewer sent us a tip about an area voting location having peculiar machine issues. After hearing back from an election judge, we went on a deep dive for info.
Credit: AP
FILE - Election workers perform a recount of ballots from the recent Pennsylvania primary election at the Allegheny County Election Division warehouse on the Northside of Pittsburgh, June 1, 2022.

TEXAS, USA — It feels like we all learn something new every election season -- and, this year, we're sweating the petty stuff.


Shortly before 8 a.m. on Election Day, a WFAA viewer sent in a tip about an issue with a voting machine in Arlington, Texas. Specifically, they noted that one of the three vote-counting machines at the Grace Community Church wasn't accepting ballots.

When pressed for details as to why, an election judge WFAA spoke with at the polling place said the machine wasn't taking ballot paper at first since the paper was "humid." 

And, it turns out, that's a real thing.

We can explain.

RELATED: Voting Guide: Here's everything you should know about the Nov. 8 election in North Texas

The Texas Secretary of State office says many voting systems use what's called "thermal paper," which is a popular choice because, since it operates without ink, it's less likely to smear.

As great as thermal paper can be for that reason, though, it also needs to treated and stored more carefully than regular copy paper. If humidity gets to it, the paper can become sweaty, and its size can actually increase -- and that can sometimes make it too big to fit into voting machines. 

As the election judge WFAA spoke with noted, sweaty ballots are likely the reason for the issue this morning at that Arlington polling location. Because, wouldn't you know it, humidity was in the North Texas forecast for Election Day.

The judge added, however, that the issue was quickly resolved and operations were back to normal a few minutes after being stalled by the morning humidity. The delay only affected two voters, the judge said, and they were asked to go to another polling location nearby since they said they could not wait.

So, how can polling places avoid this issue? The Texas Secretary of State office recommends that thermal paper be kept in a dark, cool space to avoid heat, humidity, liquids and any light exposure. With the proper care, the paper can be useful for up to three years.

Even after the paper's used for voting ballots, they should still avoid as much light as possible. It's somewhat sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) lighting and anything on it will slightly fade away.

Take care of all that, and you've got nothing to sweat about, officials say.

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