Over 500,000 Absentee Ballots Were Rejected For The 2020 Presidential Primaries

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Why Are So Many Absentee Ballots Being Rejected?
Scary Mommy and RobinOlimb/ bagira22/Getty

When we look to the consequences of voting in a pandemic, we only have one comparison: the 2020 presidential primaries. We know that because of COVID-19, NPR says that a full 47% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans plan to vote by mail in the general election this year. In the 2016 general election, 318,728 absentee ballots were rejected across the nation. In the 2020 presidential primaries, a whopping 558,032 mail-in votes were tossed.

That’s huge. That’s more than half a million votes.

So what’s going to happen in November, when millions of people vote by mail for the first time?

How Big Is The Problem With Mail-In Votes?

The problem with mail-in votes should terrify any sane American who believes in democracy. Remember the 2000 presidential election? George W. Bush and Al Gore duked it out for Florida’s 25 electoral votes (at the time) for 36 days before Al Gore conceded. And Bush won… or didn’t… according to whose post-election review you look at, but the margin of votes that decides the winner is always under 493. It gets closer still: Bush decided not to challenge Gore’s win in New Mexico… which he took by only 366 votes. And these are only presidential results. They don’t count any down ballot races for governor, senator, representative, school board… any elected official.

So what’s that mean?

Let’s take Florida for example, the center of the 2000 election battle. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the state ditched over 18,000 mail-in votes in the March primary. That’s with 46% of people voting by mail. Maryland tossed 34,948 votes, or 2.39% of mail-in votes, says WUSA9, which state election officials say is “low.” Um… maybe not when you’re talking about a general election with that many people’s rights at stake? NBC reports that in New York state’s 2020 primary held on June 23, the city of New York rejected a staggering 21% of mail-in votes. This held up the results of two Congressional races.

NPR reports that Trump won Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes in 2016. The state tossed more than 23,000 mail-in votes this year.

The problem with mail-in votes is enormous. And in the 2020 general election, it’s only going to get bigger.

So Why Are They Tossing Votes?


Lots of reasons.

Mostly, according to The Washington Post, ballots arrive late (more on that later). Some states require mail-in votes to be postmarked on Election Day. Others require them to be in the hands of election officials on Election Day. University of Florida professor Daniel A Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that, people “might not realize that sending mail even a week before Election Day may not get back by 7 p.m. on Election Day to the supervisor.” Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Fund, which is currently suing to fix the mail-in ballot system in New York, according to NBC, says she thinks “a really high percentage” of the mail-in votes were tossed because they arrived late.

Then there’s the signature issue.

WUSA9 says that a failure to sign the ballot envelope was a major reason mail-in votes were rejected in Maryland. NBC says New York also had bad enough issues with signatures that the state legislature passed a law immediately to remedy it. The Washington Post reports that about 20 states have a signature-match requirement… and it may look very different from the signature you usually use.

And people just plain don’t follow directions. They don’t have the right number of witnesses, says The Washington Post. They don’t have the right form of ID. They circle candidates instead of bubbling them in or accidentally vote for two candidates, says the Orlando Sentinel.

The Looming Postal Issue With Mail-In Votes

We all know the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t been working great lately.

Many states, says NPR, have extended deadlines and allowed ballots to be postmarked by Election Day rather than delivered by Election Day. But then there’s a pesky postmark issue. First of all, some people, Smith tells the Orlando Sentinel, “may not realize that their county requires them to have postage.” And if they have postage, there needs to be a postmark. But ballots arrive without a postmark, says NPR, or one that isn’t legible.

And guess who decides if those votes count? Election officials. In New York, reports NBC, judges ruled in favor of counting them. But who knows what’ll happen in November?

Even better, a USPS report found sometimes, that workers weren’t postmarking ballots, because they had no idea ballots were supposed to be treated differently than other kinds of mail. The postal service was actively disenfranchising voters.

According to NPR, “The Postal Service warned states that it cannot guarantee that it will be able to deliver ballots on time if deadlines are too tight.”

So Who Is This Affecting?


In Gwinett County, the second-biggest county in Georgia, 4% of white people had their mail-in votes rejected. 8% of Black voters faced the same result, according to NBC. Daniel A. Smith tells NBC that Hispanic and Black voters had their mail-in votes rejected at twice the rate of white voters in Florida’s 2016 general election. He adds that, “You have some counties where the rejection rates for younger voters or Black voters is upwards of 4 percent… You have other jurisdictions where it’s one-tenth of 1 percent. Voters do not become more intelligent or less intelligent about how to vote a ballot moving across a county line.” According to Talking Points Memo, a whopping 44% of mail-in votes rejected in Savannah were cast by Blacks… who cast only 34% of mail-in votes to begin with.

Moreover, NBC points out, mail can be less reliable in low-income communities, and many Native American reservations do not have home delivery addresses.

It’s also unfair to the young. Democracy Docket reports a study found that 5.4% of those 18-21 has their mail-in votes rejected, while only .6% of people over 65 did.

And if you’re voting by mail for the first time, you’re the person we’re worried about the most.

Read the directions.

Request your ballot now.

Mail your ballot early.

Make your vote count.