Why rejected ballots can become a major problem in 2020

As many states have changed their laws to encourage the use of mail voting during the epidemic, a major problem has become apparent: the number of mail ballets rejected.

Rejecting absentee ballots, most of which have been cast by mail, has long been an issue, but a manageable one. According to the Election Administration and Polling Survey, less than 1 percent of the 33.4 million absentee ballots submitted in 50 states and Washington DC were rejected in the 2016 general election. This year, however, the rejection rate may be much higher as many people are voting by mail for the first time and may not know the rules. David Cottrell, Michael C. Heron and Daniel A. According to Smith’s research, voters with no ballot experience are up to three times more likely to reject their ballots.

And even though the absentee-ballot rejection rate is lower than in 2016, there will be just one more absentee turnout this year, and 1 percent of a larger number is still very large. According to an analysis by NPR, more than 550,000 absentee ballots were returned, but not counted in this year’s presidential primaries – and the number is almost certainly an undercount, given that only 30 states had data available. At the very least, that far exceeded the 318,709 absentee ballots rejected in the 2016 elections by far higher voting from the 50 states and Washington, DC.

“The risk has always been,” said Charles Stewart III, founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Election Data and Science Lab. “What is different this time is that states that do not have a large number of mail ballots are now getting a large number of postal ballots. And rejection rates for many of those states, which flew under the radar when there were a very small number of ballots, are being exposed. ”

Mail ballots can be rejected for several reasons, but election administration experts told FiveThirtyThere are two big reasons. The most common reason is that they arrive late. Many states have deadlines by which mail ballots should be Received, As opposed to the postmark, which means that unless you personally leave your ballot, you are counting on the postal service to deliver your ballot as long as it will be counted (so if you have your If the ballots are put in the mail, be sure to do so quickly).

The second most common reason a ballot is rejected is that it is missing a required signature; Absentee voting requires people to sign their ballot or ballot envelope, and some states also require a witness signature. Ballot papers can also be rejected if the ballot papers do not match the signature given by the voter on file. It is a prominent group of voting rights advocates who state that the decision of whether a signature on a file is close enough can be very subjective (while some states have detailed guidelines on when to sign a signature Should, for others, and election workers conducting signature verification are often not trained). And according to Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, the oddest-looking signatures do not represent voter fraud, just that the right voter signs their name under unusual circumstances. “When I worked [as an election official] Patrick said, in Maricopa County, I never had voters say it wasn’t them. “They would say their hand was in a cast, or ‘I had a recent stroke,’ or my favorite was, ‘My gush, I signed on the dashboard of my car when I was driving down 202!”

There are also some more esoteric reasons for rejecting mail ballots. For example, in Pennsylvania, “naked ballots” – which are not enclosed in required privacy envelopes – are automatically thrown. Or “a couple may put the wrong person’s ballot in the wrong envelope,” said Heron, a political scientist who studied on rejected mail ballots. “But they are rare,” he insisted.

Mail-ballot rejects do not dismiss all voters equally, however. Voters of color and younger voters who have less voting experience by mail are more likely to vote. In North Carolina, black voters ‘mail ballots are already being rejected at a higher rate than white voters’ ballots. A similar trend was identified in Florida and Georgia in mid-2018. And in Florida in 2016 and 2018, voters age 21 and under were eight times older than voters over age 65.

It is possible, however, that the problem of rejected mail ballots is over. People often find themselves unable to vote Self Elections as well as methods that are difficult to measure. For example, some people want to vote but lack the proper identity to do so; Others cannot find their polling place on election day. And even among those who make it to elections, some may be intimidated by long lines, and others may be overcome due to problems with their voter registration (for example, it was outdated, or to the voter Was purified from the roll)). Stewart’s poll of US election performance estimated that approximately 955,000 of these four methods “lost” votes in the 2016 general election.

In-person votes are also a lot of “rejects”.

Estimated number of in-person votes cast or not counted for various votes in the 2016 general election

reason Lost vote
Registration problem 300,000
long lines 247,000
Lack of id 233.000
Polling place could not be found 175,000
The total 955,000

Source: US Election Performance Survey

So for all the attention-grabbing mail ballots, people probably don’t talk enough about the perennial problem of lost person votes. But with so many people voting by mail this year, the question becomes which method affects more voters – in-person voting or mail voting?

Heron said he is more concerned about mail ballots this year, as he is “rejecting” the person’s votes in a normal year. “What’s the biggest problem? We really don’t know. “But, he said,” my intuition is the magnitude of ballots too late. ”

Stewart agreed: “I think the incremental risk of voting by mail outweighs the voting in person.” In addition to the rate of absentee-vote rejections, as well as higher than missing person votes, Stewart’s research has found that more mail ballots are thrown out in the actual tabulation state than in-person Go. “The story is a simple one,” Stewart said. “Mistakes that are being caught in a spontaneous” – such as a person voting too many candidates, or making a stray mark on the ballot that could invalidate the whole thing – “in vote-by-mail Are not to be caught. ”This is because ballot scanners usually mark a person’s ballot incorrectly, and the voter will be given a chance to try again with a new ballot. Mail voters do not have that luxury.

Therefore mail-ballot rejects can be a bigger problem in this year than a person “reject”; At the very least, they will certainly be a bigger problem than in the past. However, the good news is that election officials are aware that increasing mail voting could potentially upset more voters, and some are addressing the problem. For instance, eight states have set a postmark deadline for postal ballots to go beyond the receipt deadline, ensuring that most ballots cast by post will not be rejected late. In most states, voters are being given the option to drop their mail ballots in person through a secure drop box. In addition, Patrick said that many mail ballots are trackable these days, so it is possible to prove if a ballot was cast in the mail on time.

Some states are also adopting a less strict approach to signature verification: Pennsylvania, for example, has counties stating that ballots cannot be rejected only on the basis of an explicit signature mismatch. And according to data collected by the National Vote at the Home Institute and shared with Fiveite, 25 states now allow voters the opportunity to report and correct problems with their absentee ballots, or to “fix” them Process.

As a result of these changes and more, Patrick said he is optimistic that absentee-ballot rejection rates will be relatively low. “Many states with high rejection rates in the primary have adopted best practices for the general,” he said, including clearer instructions and better envelope designs that show that there are fewer voters who forget to sign him , he said. “Despite the fact that so many voters are acting quickly, both requested their ballot and returned it,” Patrick said. “All this gives me hope.” Indeed, according to data collected by political scientist Michael McDonald, about 10 million ballots have already returned across the country.

But other experts are not sure whether the rejection rate will be higher or lower this year. “This is the big question,” Heron said, pointing out that the influx of mail voters for the first time this year could nullify the benefits of state changes to the election administration. “How strong are they compared to experience effects? We do not know the answer, ”he said. And besides voter inexperience and those administrative changes, there is a third factor to consider: slow mail delivery this year. Finally, Heron said, “I don’t think anyone could put a number on it to say what the effect of these three is X. ”

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