Experts: More than 1 million mail-in ballots may be rejected

Sixty percent of voters — nearly 70 million people — are projected to vote by mail nationwide during the coronavirus pandemic. Those who study absentee rejection rates estimate that 1 percent to 2 percent of those votes — potentially more than 1 million — won’t count, which could make a difference in battleground states.

“The vote-by-mail ballot rejections are going to be the hanging chads of 2000,” said Daniel Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.

The risk of ballot rejection varies by demographics and geography. The rate of rejection tends to be higher for Black, Hispanic, female and younger voters, as well as for people who don’t usually vote by mail.

Experts say it also tends to be higher in states that don’t normally have a lot of absentee ballots — a category that includes the battleground states of Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All five had less than 10 percent of turnout by mail in 2016, and they will see huge increases in mail votes this fall.

51 PHOTOSTrump and Biden on the campaign trailSee GalleryTrump and Biden on the campaign trailDemocratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media outside a voter service center, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at HoverTech International, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Allentown, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with people outside a voter service center, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)President Donald Trump waves to supporters after speaking at a campaign rally in Gastonia, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)TOPSHOT – Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden waves as he departs The Queen after taping an interview with CBS 60 Minutes, in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 19, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)Marine One helictopter, with President Donald Trump aboard, lands at the Altoona-Blair County Airport in Martinsburg, Pa, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020 for a campaign rally. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)President Donald Trump applauds after a campaign rally at Tucson International Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden waves as he arrives at The Queen theatre in Wilmington, Del., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump leaves the stage after a campaign rally at Tucson International Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)El candidato presidencial demócrata Joe Biden hace campaña el 18 de octubre del 2020 en New Castle, Delaware. (AP Foto/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Carson City Airport, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Carson City, Nev. (AP Photo/Lance Iversen)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden boards his campaign plane at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, en route to Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump dances after speaking at a campaign rally at Carson City Airport, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Carson City, Nev. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)DURHAM, NCOCTOBER 18:Presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a Voter Mobilization event at Riverside High School in Durham, North Carolina on October 18, 2020.(Photo by Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)Supporters listen as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Riverside High School in Durham, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)CARSON CITY, NV – OCTOBER 18: President Donald Trump smiles during a campaign rally on October 18, 2020 in Carson City, Nevada. With 16 days to go before the November election, President Trump is back on the campaign trail with multiple daily events as he continues to campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Riverside High School in Durham, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)CARSON CITY, NV – OCTOBER 18: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on October 18, 2020 in Carson City, Nevada. With 16 days to go before the November election, President Trump is back on the campaign trail with multiple daily events as he continues to campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)El candidato presidencial demócrata Joe Biden hace campaña el 18 de octubre del 2020 en New Castle, Delaware. (AP Foto/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump tosses face masks into the crowd as he arrives for a campaign rally at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)ABC NEWS – 10/15/20 ABC News will host a town hall with Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, October 15, 2020 in Philadelphia.The primetime event , “The Vice President and the People” will be moderated by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos and will allow voters to ask questions of the candidate.The live, 90-minute special edition of 20/20 airs on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.(Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images)JOE BIDEN, AUDIENCEPresident Donald Trump sits during a break in an NBC News Town Hall, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 15: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden prepares for a live ABC News town hall format meeting at the National Constitution Center October 15, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The second presidential debate was originally scheduled for this day but was cancelled due to President Donald Trump’s refusal to participate in a ‘virtual’ debate. Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized for three days. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)President Donald Trump speaks during an NBC News Town Hall, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participates in a town hall with moderator ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump talks with voters after an NBC News Town Hall, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and moderator George Stephanopoulos participate in an ABC News town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on October 15, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 15: President Donald Trump is seen through a television at a takeout pizza shop in the U street corridor as he speaks during a town hall on October 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden both participated in simultaneous presidential town halls in Miami and Philadelphia, after the cancellation of the second presidential debate. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 15: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden prepares for a live ABC News town hall format meeting at the National Constitution Center October 15, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The second presidential debate was originally scheduled for this day but was cancelled due to President Donald Trump’s refusal to participate in a ‘virtual’ debate. Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized for three days. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump departs a campaign rally at John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Southwest Focal Point Community Center in, Pembroke Pines, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden speaks during a drive in rallyin Miramar, Florida on October 13, 2020. – Joe Biden headed for Florida to court elderly Americans who helped elect Donald Trump four years ago but appear to be swinging to the Democratic candidate for the White House this time around amid the coronavirus pandemic. Biden, at 77 the oldest Democratic nominee ever, is to “deliver his vision for older Americans” at an event in the city of Pembroke Pines, north of Miami, his campaign said. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump departs a campaign rally at John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)PEMBROKE PINES, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 13: Wearing a face mask to reduce the risk posed by the coronavirus, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden poses for a socially-distanced selfie after delivering remarks about his ‘vision for older Americans’ at Southwest Focal Point Community Center October 13, 2020 in Pembroke Pines, Florida. With three weeks until Election Day, Biden is campaigning in Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)President Donald Trump moves to the song YMCA as he finishes a campaign rally at John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Supporters look on as Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden speaks during a drive in rally in Miramar, Florida on October 13, 2020. – Joe Biden headed for Florida to court elderly Americans who helped elect Donald Trump four years ago but appear to be swinging to the Democratic candidate for the White House this time around amid the coronavirus pandemic. Biden, at 77 the oldest Democratic nominee ever, is to “deliver his vision for older Americans” at an event in the city of Pembroke Pines, north of Miami, his campaign said. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) wears a mask depicting Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden as he speaks during a drive in rally in Miramar, Florida on October 13, 2020. – Joe Biden headed for Florida to court elderly Americans who helped elect Donald Trump four years ago but appear to be swinging to the Democratic candidate for the White House this time around amid the coronavirus pandemic. Biden, at 77 the oldest Democratic nominee ever, is to “deliver his vision for older Americans” at an event in the city of Pembroke Pines, north of Miami, his campaign said. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)President Donald Trump throws face masks into the crowd during a campaign rally at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)The Florida state flag hands behind Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden as he speaks at Southwest Focal Point Community Center in, Pembroke Pines, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)While maintaining social distance, people try to make a selfie as Jill Biden, center, waves to supporters after she was introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, left, with Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, looking while campaigning for her husband and former Vice President Joe Biden in a parking lot event at Fair Park Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump departs a campaign rally at John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Wendy Nelson holds up posters of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden as she waits for she waits for motorcade to arrive, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at John P. Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)A crowd of fans cheer on President Donald Trump during a Make America Great Again campaign rally at the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., Tuesday, Oct.13, 2020. (John RucoskyMIRAMAR, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 13: Wearing a face masks and sitting in their cars to reduce the risk posed by the coronavirus, supporters listen to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers remarks during a drive-in voter mobilization event at Miramar Regional Park October 13, 2020 in Miramar, Florida. With three weeks until Election Day, Biden is campaigning in Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Up Next

See Gallery

The problem, experts say, is that experience matters when it comes to counting mail-in ballots. And while tight vote margins are nothing new for purple states, many have never experienced an election in which such a high percentage of votes will arrive by mail. Amid round-the-clock efforts by election officials to expand access to mail ballots, rejection rates in past elections raise concerns that in some tightly contested states, the number of rejected ballots could be larger than the winning candidate’s margin of victory.

Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 victory was the result of razor-thin victories in three states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. In two of those states, the numbers of rejected mail ballots from this year’s primary elections were bigger than his margins of victory four years ago.

In its statewide primary in August, Michigan counted about 1.6 million absentee ballots, with over 13,500 of them rejected. If the tally of absentee ballots roughly doubles in November, as expected, the number of lost votes will likely be greater than Trump’s 10,704-vote margin of victory in 2016.

In Wisconsin’s April primary, over 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected. In 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by 22,748 votes.

In Pennsylvania, which Trump won four years ago by 44,292 votes, nearly 20,000 ballots were rejected in this year’s primary as about 1.5 million people voted by absentee or mail ballots. An estimated 3 million people are expected to vote by mail in the general election.

‘There are going to be mistakes made’

More than 34 million absentee votes have been cast already, according to NBC News Decision Desk/Target Smart.

In all but five states this election cycle, any voter is eligible to receive an absentee ballot, largely because of changes made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result, some battleground states have seen seismic shifts in the way people vote. Some are expecting a tenfold or more increase in mail ballots as people decide that they don’t want to go to polling places during the pandemic.

“When you’re in a scenario like we are in Michigan … where so many citizens are going to be voting by mail for the first time, there are going to be mistakes made,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last month, noting that absentee voters don’t get immediate indications as to whether their votes are counted. “That will lead to potential challenges, in my view, or difficulties in making sure that every valid vote is counted.”

Related:President Trump has voiced his concerns — unsupported by evidence — that signature verification practices create opportunities for fraud.

To meet this need, election officials have mobilized over the last seven months to hire more staff, redesign ballots and envelopes, invest in new technology, educate voters and loosen the rules about when ballots are disqualified.

In many states, primary elections in the spring and summer served as learning experiences for how to handle unprecedented rates of absentee voting. About 2 percent of absentee ballots were rejected during the primaries, based on data from 25 states, according to Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.

Rejections usually occur for one of two reasons: Voters make mistakes while filling out ballots, or ballots arrive too late to be counted. In Georgia’s June 9 primary, for example, nearly 1.5 million people successfully voted by mail, but over 9,000 ballots were returned late, and nearly 3,000 had invalid or missing signatures.

In North Carolina, where the presidential candidates are polling neck and neck, the statewide primary didn’t provide officials or voters with any practice for the general election. Voting proceeded in person as in past years, because the primary occurred March 3, the day of the state’s first reported Covid-19 case. Just 29,396 absentee ballots were submitted, and of those, more than 2,600 — almost 9 percent— were rejected.

Related:Vote early by mail or in person. Know your state’s deadlines. Don’t mess with your signature. Check your registration status — and polling place. And definitely don’t vote twice.

North Carolina is bracing for an expected 1.5 million ballots cast by mail in the general election. While other states, like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, have to wait until Election Day to begin processing — and rejecting — ballots, North Carolina began processing mail ballots in late September. So far, it is seeing about 3 percent of mail ballots not completed properly, said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

“We consider [it] to be very good, given the fact that so many people have never used this voting method before,” Bell said, noting that the state has unveiled numerous tools to make the process easier for voters, like online ballot tracking, online absentee request portals and a new, more user-friendly envelope design. Voters in North Carolina also now have the opportunity to correct, or “cure,” ballots with certain disqualifying errors.

Disparities are already emerging among the ballots rejected so far in the general election, according to analyses by Smith, the University of Florida professor. In North Carolina, Black voters’ ballots are being rejected at roughly three times the rate of white voters’ ballots. In Florida, voter error, usually related to signature issues, has caused slightly less than 0.5 percent of ballots to be flagged for rejection overall, compared to 0.7 percent for Black and Hispanic voters and 1.2 percent for voters ages 18 to 23.

But officials say ballot rejection rates from state primaries aren’t a perfect proxy for the general election, especially because so many primaries occurred within weeks or months of coronavirus-related shutdowns.

Wisconsin, where absentee voters were less than 5 percent of the turnout in the 2016 general election, had to deal with 60 percent of voters casting absentee ballots in its April primary, just a month after the coronavirus was declared a pandemic. The election was marked by confusion over absentee ballot deadlines, among other issues.

So far, the state has received over 1 million mailed ballots for the general election — more than seven times the total of mailed ballots in 2016. But election officials and experts point to state initiatives to improve the process for the general election, such as drop boxes, ballot tracking and behind-the-scenes changes to the administration of absentee ballot requests.

“This will be our fourth statewide election in 2020, so we’ve had quite a bit of practice,” said Meagan Wolfe, who heads the Wisconsin Elections Commission. “It was more challenging at the beginning of the year, but we’ve grown quite a bit over the last few months.”

Still, both in Wisconsin and across the nation, absentee ballot rejections remain among the top election administration concerns for some experts. With just a week until the election, amid slowdowns at the U.S. Postal Service, experts and election officials recommend that voters take care to educate themselves about the process, “cure” ballots where possible, use in-person drop-off locations and track their ballots using online tools like those available in the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

“It’s a sad situation when a ballot is rejected,” said Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s a real risk voters take. I don’t think most voters would like their odds if they knew them.”

Source: Read Full Article