We are aware of how groups on both sides of the political spectrum are pushing absentee-by-mail voting. One likely result of those efforts will be an increase in rejected absentee ballots this year.
One group, in particular, the Center for Voter Information, has been sowing confusion in North Carolina and other states with misleading mailers containing what appears to many voters to be official government communications. The Center for Voter Information had mailed 80,000 illegal absentee ballot request forms last June. In addition, the group had recently sent absentee ballot applications in Virginia to people “who were deceased or ineligible to vote.”
While the latest mailers are not illegal, the problems they are causing are so bad the NC State Board of Elections Executive Directo Karen Brinson Bell felt compelled to issue a public statement (politely) asking them to stop. (emphasis in the original):
“The State and County Boards of Elections encourage third-party groups to consider the overwhelming toll that misleading or confusing mailings and other outreach efforts take on elections resources and the damage they cause to voters’ confidence in elections,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. “We need our elections officials to be focused on serving more than 7 million voters during a pandemic.”
The absentee-by mail ballots are rejected for various reasons for each election. For example, according to data from the NC State Board of Elections (the absentee_20200303.zip file), 31,048 ballots were returned in the March 3 primary (and 10,380 ballots that had been requested were not returned). Of those, 26,514 (85.4%) were accepted. Of the ballots that were not accepted, 1,705 (5.5%) were marked as “spoiled,” indicating that the county board of elections had sent new ballots to those voters. The leading causes of ballots not been accepted were missing voter signatures (1,542 or 5.0%), returned after the legal deadline (800 or 3.0%), and missing witness information (262 or 1.0%).
However, we can expect the proportion of rejected absentee-by-mail ballots to rise this year. With the number of people voting by mail climbing dramatically, many voters will be voting absentee-by-mail for the first time. That alone will likely increase the number of absentee ballot requests and absentee ballots rejected by county boards of elections for non-compliance with election law. The actions of groups like the Center for Voter Information, even if well-intentioned, will only make the proportion of absentee ballots rejected rise even more.
To get an idea of how groups that are ostensibly helping people to vote can sow confusion, consider this statement from a Robeson County voter after the 2018 election:
Sylvester Jones, a 64-year-old resident of St. Pauls who’s a registered Democrat, said two people came to his house before the election to tell him to re-register “just to be sure,” even though his paperwork was in order as far as he knew. They also told him he might have trouble getting to the polls, because he’s disabled, and suggested he apply to vote absentee.
Jones said he made the absentee request, filled out the ballot and mailed it himself. But he remains confused about the process. A month after the election, he wonders whether his ballot was ever counted.
According to the SBE’s Voter Search tool, no vote from Mr. Jones was counted in 2018.
Voter confusion caused by groups like the Center for Voter Information about the absentee-by-mail voting process will increase the number of absentee-by-mail applications and ballots rejected this year’s election.
What you can do: If you wish to vote absentee-by-mail, don’t rely on political groups. Send an absentee ballot request form directly to your county board of elections. Better yet, vote in person. Given the safety procedures that election officials have put in place, voting in person will be safe and will lessen the chances of problems with your ballot.