As many states changed their laws to encourage the use of postal voting during the pandemic, one big problem has become apparent: the number of ballot papers rejected.
Rejected postal voting slips, most of which are posted by post, have long been a problem, but manageable. According to the Election administration and pollingLess than 1 percent of the 33.4 million postal ballots submitted in the 2016 general election in the 50 states and Washington, DC were rejected. This year, however, the rejection rates could be much higher as so many people are voting by mail for the first time and may not know the rules. According to Research by David Cottrell, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. SmithInexperienced voters voting by mail are up to three times more likely to have their ballots rejected.
And even if absentee voting turns out to be as low as 2016, there will simply be a lot more absentee voting this year, and 1 percent of a large number is still pretty high. According to an analysis by NPR, more than 550,000 postal ballot papers was returned but not counted in this year’s presidential primaries – and that number is almost certainly an undercount, considering data was only available in 30 states. At the very least, it far exceeds the 318,709 postal ballots that were rejected in the 2016 general election with much higher voter turnout in the 50 states and Washington, DC.
“The risk has always been there” Charles Stewart III, Founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s election data and science lab, told FiveThirtyEight. “What is different this time around is that states that do not have histories of large numbers of postal ballots are now receiving large numbers of postal ballots. And the rejection rates for many of those states that have flown under the radar with low numbers of ballots , are now highlighted. “
Postal ballot papers can be rejected for a number of reasons, but electoral administration experts told FiveThirtyEight that there are two major reasons. The most common reason is that they arrive late. Many states have deadlines by which postal ballot papers must be received receiveUnlike postmarking, meaning if you don’t hand in your ballot in person, trust the postal service to deliver your ballot in time for the count (so if you’re mailing your ballot out) make sure you do so early ).
The second most common reason a ballot is rejected is the lack of a required signature. People who vote absent are required to sign their ballot or ballot envelope, and some states even require a witness signature also. Ballot papers can also be rejected if they are signed does not match the voter’s signature. That is a Main complaint by proxies indicating that deciding whether a signature is close enough to the present one can be very subjective (while some states have done so) detailed guidelines When one signature should count, others don’t, and election workers performing signature verification often do not well educated). And after Tammy PatrickAs a senior advisor to the Democracy Fund, most of the weird-looking signatures do not constitute election fraud, just the real voter signing their name under unusual circumstances. “When I was working [as an election official] I never had a voter in Maricopa County who said it wasn’t, ”said Patrick. “They said her arm had a cast or” I recently had a stroke “or my favorite was,” Gosh, I signed it on the dash of my car when I pulled down the 202! “
There are several other esoteric reasons why postal ballot papers are rejected. In Pennsylvania, for examplenaked ballots”- those not included in the required confidentiality envelope – are automatically thrown. Or “a couple could put the wrong person’s ballot in the wrong envelope,” said Herron, one of the political scientists who wrote the study of rejected postal ballots. “But they are rare,” he emphasized.
However, rejections of postal ballot papers did not disenfranchise all voters equally. Color voters and young voters, who also tend to have less experience with postal voting, are more likely not to be counted. In North Carolina, the postal ballots of black voters are already rejected more often than the ballots of white voters. There was a similar trend identified in Florida and Georgia in the meantime 2018. In Florida, voters aged 21 and under had a rejection rate in 2016 and 2018 more than eight times larger as a voter over 65 years of age.
However, it is possible that the absentee voting problem is overstated. People are often unable to vote personally Elections too – just in a way that’s harder to measure. For example, some people may want to vote but do not have the correct identification to do so. others may not be able to find their polling station on election day. And even among people who make it to the polls, some can be put off by long lines and others can be turned away due to problems with their voter registration (e.g. because it was out of date or the voter was removed from the cast). Stewarts Overview of the performance of American elections It is estimated that around 955,000 votes were “lost” in one of these four ways in the 2016 general election.
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With all the attention paid to rejected postal ballot papers, people probably are not talking enough about the persistent problem of lost personal votes. But with so many more people voting by post this year, which method will deprive more voters of their rights – personal voting or postal voting?
Herron said he was more concerned about postal ballot papers being rejected that year than about personal votes being “rejected” in a normal year. “What’s the biggest problem? We don’t really know.” But he added, “My intuition is that the extent of the late ballot is much larger.”
Stewart agreed, “I think the additional risk of voting by post is greater than voting in person.” In addition to the rate at which absentee ballot rejections are higher than the rate of personal votes lost, Stewart’s research has found that more postal ballot papers are discarded than personal ballots in the actual tabulation phase. “The story there is simple,” said Stewart. “Mistakes that get caught in a turf” – like a person voting for too many candidates or putting a token on the ballot that could invalidate the whole thing – “will not be voted on by email.” This is because ballot scanners will usually spit out a mislabeled personal ballot and give the voter the opportunity to try again with a new ballot. Mail voters don’t have that luxury.
Postal ballot rejections could therefore be a bigger problem this year than personal “rejections”. At the very least, they will certainly be a bigger problem than they have been in the past. The good news, however, is that election officials know that increased postal voting may disenfranchise more voters, and some are addressing the issue. For example, eight states have switched from a postal ballot receipt deadline to a postmarked deadline to ensure that most ballots received in the mail are not rejected for being late. The vast majority of states also give voters the option to hand in their postal ballot papers through secure mailboxes. Additionally, Patrick said that many postal ballot papers these days are trackable so that it can be proven that a ballot was received in the mail on time.
Some states also take a less stringent approach to signature verification: for example, Pennsylvania has notified counties that ballot papers cannot be refused solely because of an obvious signature mismatch. And according to the National Vote at Home Institute In partnership with FiveThirtyEight, 25 states now have procedures in place to inform voters of problems with their postal ballot papers and to give them the opportunity to fix or “cure” them.
As a result of these and other changes, Patrick is optimistic that absentee voting rates will be relatively low this fall. “Many states with high rejection rates in primary education have adopted best practices for the general,” including clearer instructions and better envelope designs. Tests show the number of voters who forgot to sign them is lower, she said. “Also the fact that so many voters are taking early action to both request and return their ballot,” added Patrick. “It all gives me hope.” According to political scientist Michael McDonald nearly 10 million ballot papers have already been returned nationwide.
However, other experts aren’t sure if the rejection rates will be higher or lower this year. “That’s the big question,” Herron said, pointing out that the influx of first-time postal voters into the electorate this year could undermine the benefits of state changes in electoral administration. “How strong are these compared to the experience effect? We don’t know the answer, ”he said. In addition to voter inexperience and these administrative changes, there is a third factor to consider: slower mail delivery this year. In conclusion, Herron said, “I don’t think anyone can put a number on it to say that the effect is these three x. ”