In Key Swing States, 2020's Mail-In Ballot Rejection Rates Plummeted – Significantly from 2016's Rates

Rates are below historical average, and significantly less than most recent Presidential Elections.

By Daniel Payne

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Texas Insider Report) —
 Mail-In Ballot rejection rates were lower than expected all across the United States this past election, with battleground states posting strikingly lower numbers relative to both the historical average and more recent elections.

Mail-in ballots normally have a much higher rejection rate than in-person voting does, largely due to the inevitable errors – forgotten signatures, misplaced addresses, improperly marked ballots that occur when large numbers of people attempt to vote relatively unsupervised compared to at the traditional voting booth. Yet during the November 2020 Presidential Election, a recently reported rejection rate in Michigan – posted just before the election – came in at around 0.1%.

The rate was 0.5% in 2016.

Historically, mail-in ballots are rejected at around the rate of 1%, but for first-time absentee voters the rate can go as high as 3%, reflecting the unfamiliarity first-time voters have with the mail-in process.

And political experts and commentators predicted potentially huge numbers of rejected ballots ahead of the 2020 Election, citing the much-higher-than-average numbers of mail-in voters this year, including countless first-time mail-in voters. Concerns arose in the weeks before the election that rejected ballots could play a decisive role in the outcome of the election, particularly as they were projected to be slanted heavily in favor of Democrat Joe Biden.

Yet November's Mail-In Ballot rejection rates in multiple battleground states are now reported to have been significantly lower than both the historical average rejection rate, as well as the rate seen in the most recent presidential election.

In the Battleground States, Rejection Rates Tumbled from 2016
  • In Georgia, for instance – a state where Joe Biden eked out a surprise victory by about 12,000 votes over President Trump – the 2016 rejection rate was a whopping 6.4%, according to U.S. data.
  • This year, the rate of rejection in Georgia stands at 0.2%, more than 30 times lower than the 2016 Election, according to the U.S. Elections Project, an election data site run by University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald that draws its figures from State Reports.
Similar trends have been observed:
  • In Pennsylvania, whose rate was 0.03% this year, that compares to around 1% in 2016.
  • In Nevada, the rejection rate more than halved from 1.60% in 2016 to around 0.75% this year.
  • North Carolina's rate fell from about 2.7% in 2016 to 0.8% this year.
Laws, Rule Changes may have played a role in lower rates

Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Secretary of State's office, told Just the News shortly after the election that the state was expecting a reduction in rejected ballots after "the Michigan Legislature passed a law requiring polling clerks to notify voters if there was a signature issue (either missing or mismatched,) with their absentee ballot and ensure they understood how to cure it."

"The curing window was available until 8 p.m. on Election Day," said Wimmer. "And since missing or mismatched signatures usually account for one of the largest percentages of rejections, we expect those will go down this year."

Signature fixes would likely only explain a portion of the sharp drop in rejections.

Wimmer shared a breakdown of rejections from 2016 with Just the News. Of the ballots rejected that year, about a quarter of them were due to missing or mismatched signatures.

Assuming those numbers held steady for this election, the legislature's rule change would only account for one-quarter of the roughly 71% reduction in rejected ballots this year.

Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, suggested that the decreased rejection rate should be looked at in light of the wide range of new ballot policies put in place this year, as well as efforts by community organizers to assist voters with ballots.

"Every indication in the several states I've analyzed is that the initial rate of rejected mail ballots was not lower in the 2020 General Election, but that the cure rate was much higher," he said.

"This was the result of litigation – which resulted in voters having more opportunities and time in several states to correct mistakes with their return envelopes or security sleeves – but also the work on the ground by the parties and voting rights organizations to directly notify voters who had problems with their ballots that they had an opportunity to cure them," he said.

The Supreme Court in late October of 2020, meanwhile, ruled that both Pennsylvania and North Carolina could continue counting ballots received after Election Day, allowing North Carolina nine extra days and Pennsylvania three.

Late-delivered ballots are another frequent source of rejection; in Michigan's breakdown of rejected ballots, the largest share of rejections were due to late receipt.
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