Why over half a million votes in the 2020 election didn’t count

According to the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC), 560,826 mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2020 presidential election. The EAC is a federal agency created in 2002 to track election administration in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five US territories. And it produces a post-election survey of state election results and procedures.

So over half a million voters took the time to fill out and mail in a mail-in ballot, and all for nothing.

In a sense, that’s a relatively small number. The EAC says 69,560,318 absentee ballots were counted, or 98.8% of the absentee ballots received in last November’s election. Only 0.8 percent of those received were rejected.

And even though the number of 2020 mail-in ballots essentially doubled from the previous presidential election, the percentage of ballots discarded remained the same.

But still, half a million votes is a lot of people whose votes didn’t count.

I compared the number of rejected mail-in ballots to the vote difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in each state, as questionable practices in some states, particularly Pennsylvania, raised doubts about the validity of the Biden victory.

But even if all of the rejected mail-in ballots in each state had been awarded to the losing presidential candidate, it would have made no difference to the outcome of the presidential election in any state.

Even so, those rejected votes could have made a difference in close national and local elections, which is why it’s important to consider what went wrong.

The first thing to notice is that results can vary greatly from state to state.

The average rejection was 0.8% of mail-in ballots received. But 14 states had a rejection rate of 1.0% or more. The six states with the highest rejection rates were: Arkansas (6.4%), Illinois (1.7%), Mississippi (2.3%), New Mexico (5.0 %), New York (3.6%) and Oklahoma (1.8%). Thus, three red states and three blue states were in the top six. [Note: The EAC survey recognizes some issues with the mail-in vote rejection counts in Ala., Ga., Kansas and Wis.]

The report also identifies the main reasons why some absentee ballots were rejected. Unmatched signatures accounted for 32.8%; 13.5% were rejected because the voter had already voted in person; 12.1% were not received by the date indicated and 12.1% did not include a signature; and 5.6% did not include the required signature of a witness.

Other reasons included: “the voter was not eligible to vote in the jurisdiction, the ballot was missing an important document (such as an affidavit or certification), the document was incomplete or insufficient, there were identification marks on the ballot, the ballot was missing a secret envelope or was outside the secret envelope.

Even those who did everything right and mailed their ballot in a timely manner may have been hampered by unintentional errors at the post office, including missing postmarks and late delivery.

These rejected votes could have made the difference in some tight elections. For example, in the race for New York’s 22nd congressional district, the Republican candidate was finally certified as the winner by 109 votes on February 8, more than three months after the election.

There have been legal challenges to a number of mail-in votes, including whether the voter voted in the correct constituency, how the ballot was filled out and where it was dropped off. While the Republican ultimately prevailed, the vote count shifted back and forth over the three months.

New York recorded a total of 66,746 rejected mail-in votes, or 3.6% of the state’s total mail-in votes. Would the outcome have been different if some mail-in voters had been more cautious?

Here’s the point: voting in person for those who have the option (some states have mail-in voting), whether at early voting or on Election Day, is the surest way to ensure your vote is account. There are poll watchers there to make sure voters are registered to vote in that district and complete the process successfully.

Postal voting is an important alternative for those who cannot go to the polls to vote in person, but it is the second best option.

If you want to make sure you’re not one of those who end up wasting their time sending out a ballot, vote in person.

Merrill Matthews is a Resident Scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.


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