Study: More votes per mail increases the rate of rejected ballot papers

Professor Enrijeta Shino says every voter has to be responsible for making sure that they provide all of the correct information on their vote-by-mail ballot.

There was a huge spike in the number of voters voting by letter in the nine presidential elections that took place last week, confirming that the November general election will likely be the biggest postal vote in the country’s history.


What you need to know

  • Study looked at Georgia’s election in 2018

  • The 2019 Florida bill was supposed to ensure a smoother ballot process

  • More political headlines

Concerns about going to the polls because of fears of the new coronavirus have led to a massive increase in postal votes this spring. President Trump has expressed doubts about the reliability of email voting, claiming that it will lead to widespread fraud. Analysts say there is little evidence that both parties are benefiting politically from this voting method.

Now, a study into the Georgia election in 2018 suggests that people of color and younger voters are more likely to have their ballot papers rejected at the ballot box than any other cohort.

Enrijeta Shino, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Florida, says it’s not entirely clear why.

“On the one hand, we have reason to believe that young and new registrants may not be as familiar with postal voting laws and regulations,” Shino said in a Zoom interview last week. “Maybe they don’t know that you should send in the vote and it should be received by election officials before election day.”

Vote by ballot paper in Florida must be received by the Supervisor of Elections office before 7pm. on election day. (A lawsuit filed by many liberal organizations calls on the state to extend the deadline to accept such ballots to a full week after election day.)

Shino co-wrote with Mara Suttman-Lea, an assistant professor of politics at Connecticut College, and professor of political science at the University of Florida, Dan Smith. They linked the entire state of Georgia voter file with information about each voter, such as race, age, gender, and registration status. They then compared that with the administrative data on the ballot papers cast per vote, and whether they had actually been counted.

Smith was a co-author a report with the 2018 ACLU of Florida, which examined rejected post-ballot papers in the 2012 and 2016 Florida general elections.

That report found that in 2016, voters under 30 in Florida represented only 9.2 percent of all voters by mail, but were responsible for nearly 31 percent of rejected mail-in ballots. And among black, Spanish and other minority voters, postal votes were rejected more than two and a half times as often as the ballot papers cast by white voters.

National statistics also show that there is a higher chance of rejection of a ballot paper sent by mail, rather than casting it in person.

According to the United States Election CommissionIn the 2016 general election, there were about 33.2 million postal votes, and about 1 percent was turned down. The reasons for rejection include a missing signature, a signature that does not match the signature registered with election supervisors, and a problem with a return envelope or sending the vote.

An election bill passed by the Florida legislature in 2019 made a number of changes to ensure a smoother postal ballot process. This included forbidding election supervisors to send a vote by mail eight days before an election (there were four), and to have a voter use the signature used to verify a vote by mail on the day the vote was received.

“Do not hesitate to vote by post in the upcoming elections if that is the voting method that you believe is safest for your health in this particular election,” said Professor Shino.

She says that each voter should be responsible for ensuring that they provide all correct information about their vote by mail.

Of the nine locations that had primaries held on June 2, the percentage of voters voting by letter compared to the presidential primaries in those states (and the District of Columbia) in 2016 was dramatic: it was 93 percent higher in Maryland ( that each voter sent an absent vote); 80 percent higher in Rhode Island and 86 percent higher in Idaho (which did not open polling stations). That’s according to the website fivethirtyeight.com.

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