Using LibreOffice’s Draw to edit a PDF ballot to vote by email

I just wanted to share my solution to voting by email. When I signed up to vote by email, I got a PDF file in my email box. PDF may be a free/open format, but there are remarkably few programs available to edit PDF files. I am not prepared to pay $12.99 per month just to use Adobe’s Acrobat Standard DC and it doesn’t even run in Linux, which is my operating system of choice. I can install an ancient version of Acrobat Reader for Linux, but it doesn’t allow editing of PDF files.

Sadly, all the PDF editors for Linux have their drawbacks compared to Adobe Acrobat. The solution that I found was to open the PDF file in LibreOffice‘s Draw program. Then, edit the PDF as an image file. Inserting text boxes is a bit dodgy with LibreOffice Draw. The easiest way I found is to write the text in LibreOffice Writer, then copy and paste it into the image in Draw. Then, I was able to move the text to the location where I wanted it inside the image.

For my signature, I took a photo of my signature with my smartphone, then transferred the JPEG file to my laptop via Bluetooth. Then I opened the file with GIMP and selected the part of the image containing my signature. I copied it and pasted the signature into Draw. The signature can also be obtained by opening the JPEG file in Draw, but I find GIMP more convenient.

When I finished editing my ballot in LibreOffice Draw, I was able to export the images as a PDF file under File > Export As > Export as PDF. Then, I sent that file as an attachment in my email.

Since LibreOffice runs on every major OS (Windows, Linux, BSD and MacOS) and is gratis, this solution should work for everyone. Of course, this isn’t the ideal solution, since the PDF file contains images rather than text that can be processed, but it is effectively the same as faxing in your ballot, which is also an image. I imagine that all email ballots are being processed manually anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what is the underlying format.

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