Why some mail-in ballots are rejected and how to make sure your vote counts
More Americans than ever are likely to cast a ballot by mail for the first time in this year's presidential election, and though this sounds like it should be simple, voters could face a learning curve in completing it properly and ensuring it arrives in time to be counted.
In the primary elections held during the pandemic this year in five key battleground states, rejection rates of returned absentee and mail-in ballots ranged from a little under 1% to nearly 2%, according to a CBS News analysis of state data and a report from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. The number seems small and suggests that in the vast majority of cases, votes cast by mail are counted.
But in a close election, it's a number that signals potential challenges ahead for voters, campaigns, and election officials in November. Rejected ballots could become a key source of contention that could further stall results.
A missing signature, an unverified signature, or late arrival are the most common reasons for a ballot to be rejected, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission report from the 2016 election. In that election, 318,728 ballots — just under 1% of returned absentee ballots — were rejected across the country.
Concerns about the coronavirus mean that "so many more people are going to vote by mail, that it really does raise the possibility of a high number of rejected ballots," says Josh Douglas, an election law and voting rights professor at the University of Kentucky. "If you have a super close election, especially in a presidential swing state, and the margin of victory is lower than the margin of rejected ballots, then people will question the results. And then you get litigation."