ATLANTA – Thousands of absentee ballots get rejected in every presidential election. This year, that problem could be much worse and potentially pivotal in hotly contested battleground states.
With the coronavirus creating a surge in mail-in balloting and postal delays reported across the country, the number of rejected ballots in November is projected to be significantly higher than previous elections.
If ballots are rejected at the same rate as during this year's primaries, up to three times as many voters in November could be disenfranchised in key battleground states when compared to the last presidential election, according to an Associated Press analysis of rejected ballots. It could be even more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and ballot rejection rates trended higher during this year’s primaries.
“It is the number one thing that keeps me up at night — the idea that voters will do everything they can to ensure their ballot is returned on time and the system will still fail them,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Ballot rejections occur even under the best of circumstances. They go uncounted because they arrived too late in the mail, voters forgot to sign them or signatures didn't match the one on file at local election offices.
Those problems could be compounded this year as millions of voters cast mail-in ballots for the first time because of election changes forced by the coronavirus. Large numbers of uncounted ballots could be used to sow doubts about the election; President Donald Trump has been claiming for months without evidence that widespread mail-in voting will lead to fraud.
The sudden leap is worrisome: 22 states are going from absentee ballots comprising less than 10% of all ballots four years ago to perhaps half or more this November. Pennsylvania is among them: Nearly 51% of all votes cast during its June primary were mail-in.
If voter turnout is the same as 2016 and the ballot rejection rate equals the 1.4% from this year’s primary, nearly 43,000 voters in Pennsylvania could be disenfranchised this fall, according to AP’s analysis. That's almost the same number of votes by which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state four years ago, when some 2,100 ballots were rejected.