Why So Few Absentee Ballots Had been Rejected In 2020

It was the nightmare situation for the 2020 election: With so many extra individuals than regular casting absentee ballots, observers feared {that a} important share of ballots could be rejected for not following correct process. One research, as an illustration, confirmed that first-time mail voters, who’re much less aware of the principles of absentee voting, had been as much as 3 times extra more likely to have their votes rejected, and at the least 550,000 absentee ballots went uncounted throughout final spring and summer season’s closely vote--mail major elections.

However these fears didn’t come to cross. In accordance with knowledge collected FiveThirtyEight from state election workplaces, not solely did absentee-ballot rejection charges not rise, however rejected ballots had been really much less of an issue than they had been in 2016.

From the 27 states, plus Washington, D.C., the place we had been capable of receive knowledge, solely 297,347 out of 47,999,299 absentee ballots solid within the 2020 basic election had been rejected — a rejection fee of 0.6 %. And in 20 of the 23 jurisdictions that offered knowledge for the final two presidential elections, the 2020 rejection fee was decrease than 2016’s. (Information isn’t but accessible within the remaining states however will ultimately be launched as a part of the 2020 Election Administration and Voting Survey.)

Absentee-ballot rejection charges decreased in 2020

The variety of rejected absentee ballots, as a share of absentee ballots returned, within the 2020 and 2016 basic elections within the 27 states and Washington, D.C., that present rejected-ballot knowledge

2016 Absentee Rejections 2020 Absentee Rejections
State Uncooked Quantity Fee Uncooked Quantity Fee diff.
Massachusetts 5,152 3.3% 13,718 0.6% -2.7
Maryland 3,672 2.1 3,669 0.2 -1.8
Alaska 1,676 2.6 1,152 0.8 -1.8
Missouri 5,988 2.1 5,542 0.6 -1.5
North Carolina 5,105 2.6 12,272 1.2 -1.4
Wisconsin 1.4 4,270 0.2 -1.2
Delaware 216 1.3 417 0.3 -1.1
Oklahoma 3,084 2.9 5,243 1.8 -1.1
Connecticut 2,532 2.0 6,227 0.9 -1.0
Nebraska 2,695 1.1 1,792 0.3 -0.8
Minnesota 12,461 1.8 20,240 1.0 -0.8
Vermont 1,022 1.1 1,491 0.5 -0.5
D.C. 210 1.0 1,295 0.5 -0.5
Ohio 0.9 9,205 0.4 -0.4
Washington 35,927 1.1 32,334 0.8 -0.3
South Carolina 2,954 0.6 4,581 0.3 -0.2
Maine 2,657 1.0 4,196 0.8 -0.2
California 58,309 0.7 86,401 0.6 -0.1
Wyoming 184 0.2 173 0.1 -0.1
South Dakota 378 0.4 602 0.3 -0.1
Michigan 4,815 0.4 15,302 0.5 +0.0
Illinois 5,957 1.6 33,871 1.7 +0.1
Mississippi 1,602 1.6 5,562 2.3 +0.8
Rhode Island 184 0.1
Virginia 5,082 0.2
Kentucky 1,197 0.2
Georgia 7,604 0.6
Utah 13,725 0.9

Supply: State election workplaces

For a lot of states, the variety of rejected absentee ballots turned out to be an unbelievable success story. Massachusetts, for instance, reduce its rejection fee from a mediocre 3.Three % in 2016 to a wonderful 0.6 % in 2020 (for reference, states traditionally have had rejection charges of as much as 6 %). Maryland rejected about the identical variety of absentee ballots in 2020 (3,669) because it did in 2016 (3,672) — regardless of 9 occasions as many whole absentee ballots being solid (1,528,327 vs. 177,350). 4 different states additionally rejected fewer ballots in absolute phrases in 2020 than they did in 2016, regardless of a large improve within the whole variety of absentee ballots solid.

What’s behind this exceptional success? Election-administration specialists cite a number of components, however an enormous one was that voters submitted their absentee ballots early. That’s essential as a result of, in a traditional election, the number-one purpose that absentee ballots aren’t counted is that they arrive too late. However in 2020, a number of states reported steep dropoffs within the share of absentees obtained after the deadline. As an example, in Delaware, the share of absentee ballots that arrived late decreased from 1.Three % in 2016 to 0.2 % in 2020. In Maryland, it decreased from 1.Three % to 0.1 %. In Massachusetts, it decreased from 1.7 % to 0.04 %. In accordance with the information for all three states (plus Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Vermont), this dropoff in late ballots accounted for a majority of their general discount in rejected ballots.

One purpose for that is apparent: Voters heeded election officers’ exhortations to ship again their absentee ballots as early as potential. Ubiquitous reminders within the media and saturation protection of issues on the U.S. Postal Service probably helped, too. However states and huge additionally proactively modified their election insurance policies to stop ballots from getting tossed because of lateness. A number of states prolonged their deadlines in order that ballots might arrive after Election Day (so long as they had been correctly postmarked), together with Massachusetts. Michelle Tassinari, the director of the commonwealth’s Elections Division, informed FiveThirtyEight that this was an enormous purpose for the Bay State’s enchancment.

Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser with the Democracy Fund, additionally applauded states for giving voters methods to return their ballots aside from mailing them again (which, in fact, can take a number of days). “These return choices made the distinction in lots of ballots not coming again late.” Certainly, in accordance with preliminary findings from the Survey of the Efficiency of American Elections, 45 % of mail ballots had been dropped off in particular person in 2020, up from 29 % in 2016. Largely, this was due to elevated entry to poll drop bins. At the very least 38 states plus Washington, D.C., provided drop bins within the 2020 basic election, up from about 13 that did so earlier than 2020. In accordance with Tassinari, this was one other secret to Massachusetts’s success. “We inspired each metropolis and city to get drop bins, and a few municipalities even had a number of drop bins,” she stated. “As an example, the Metropolis of Worcester had them in all the fireplace stations.”

Some states additionally carried out reforms to hurry up the USPS’s capability to course of ballots. “Extra states used clever mail bar codes [on their ballot envelopes] that allowed the postal service to know the place ballots had been and ensure they had been processed in a well timed method,” defined Patrick. Massachusetts was a type of states: Election officers utilized for 351 separate postal permits for particular envelopes with bar codes pre-addressed to the 351 metropolis and city clerks throughout the commonwealth — “a tough, exhausting course of,” Tassinari informed us, however one which was price it in the long run. As a substitute of getting to be hand-stamped, Tassinari defined, the envelopes may very well be processed routinely, resulting in quicker supply.

Poll lateness wasn’t the one drawback that obtained higher in 2020. Some states additionally reduce into the second-most widespread purpose absentee ballots are inclined to get rejected: voter error, akin to a lacking or invalid signature on the poll envelope. For instance, 15 states plus Washington, D.C., started providing voters the flexibility to “treatment,” or repair errors on, their absentee ballots, in accordance with Amber McReynolds and Grace Beyer of the Nationwide Vote at Residence Institute. (That’s on prime of the 17 states that already allowed ballot-curing earlier than 2020.) State knowledge means that this prevented hundreds of ballots from being rejected. In Kentucky, which quickly modified its election legal guidelines final yr to permit poll curing, 2,933 ballots had been cured, leaving just one,197 that had been rejected. In Georgia, a state that had a treatment course of beforehand, 2,777 ballots had been cured, reducing the variety of ballots that had been ultimately rejected to 7,604.

McReynolds emphasised, nonetheless, that it wasn’t simply that states modified their insurance policies; technical developments made an enormous distinction as effectively. “Going into 2020, just one state had a full statewide ballot-tracking system that might notify voters of a problem straight away. Now there are six,” she stated. “And quite a lot of different states didn’t undertake full monitoring techniques however did put the knowledge on their web site so voters might look it up.” A few of these techniques had been extremely fast and straightforward for voters, akin to Colorado’s TXT2Cure program, which despatched voters of discrepant ballots a textual content message with a hyperlink the place they might add a photograph of their ID and signal a voter affidavit, proper on their smartphone.

As well as, each McReynolds and Patrick praised organizations such because the Middle for Civic Design for working with states to design extra user-friendly ballots and envelopes. “Issues like plain-language voter directions, an ‘X’ within the signature field so voters know the place to signal — one thing so simple as that little ‘X’ drives down the rejection fee,” Patrick defined. In accordance with Whitney Quesenbery, the CCD’s govt director, 18 states plus Washington, D.C., adopted its designs or directions final yr, both statewide or in choose counties. Considered one of them was North Carolina, whose dramatically extra legible poll envelope might have had a tangible impression. In accordance with preliminary knowledge from the state board of elections, the share of absentee ballots tossed for incomplete witness info went from 1.Four % in 2016 to 0.6 % in 2020.

Quesenbery herself, although, downplayed the CCD’s position in reducing rejection charges, giving extra credit score to voter-education campaigns. “When the entire naked-ballot story broke in Pennsylvania, the [Pennsylvania] Division of State was on it. We helped them make posters that they mailed to each county election workplace,” she stated, including that additionally they helped voting-rights activists unfold the phrase way of posters and social media. Equally, Patrick advised that public-service journalism within the media, displaying voters precisely the way to solid their absentee ballots, helped many first-time mail voters keep away from its potential pitfalls. However in the end, the individuals I spoke with jogged my memory many times that the low rejection fee was a testomony to the voters themselves. “It was such an essential election that I believe voters took these messages to coronary heart and took additional care to observe the instructions,” Tassinari stated. Quesenbery agreed: “I believe individuals spent quite a lot of time serious about how to verify their vote counted.”

The decision received’t be remaining till we get knowledge for all 50 states, however at this level, it does appear as if most states had been very profitable at decreasing their absentee-ballot rejection charges in 2020 — and it’s essential that we pay attention to how they did it. Final fall’s efforts to maintain rejection charges low weren’t undertaken routinely; they had been born out of expertise, good and unhealthy. “Purple flags and alarm whistles had been going off after the primaries final yr,” Patrick famous, galvanizing many states to repair the insurance policies and techniques that had led to so many uncounted ballots. And far of Massachusetts’s success was based mostly on one of the best practices of different, extra skilled states: “We had been in contact with different states that primarily do vote--mail, like Washington, Oregon and Colorado. They provided useful hints,” stated Tassinari.

Now, will probably be as much as states to take what they realized from 2020 to maintain rejection charges as little as potential in future elections.

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