Young voters are more likely to have their mail ballots rejected than older voters, according to a study out Monday examining voting in Sacramento, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in the 2018 general election.
The research published by the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation highlights one of the greatest challenges for California's shift towards expanded vote-by-mail this election: the number of ballots that are returned, but not counted because they were mailed too late or lacked an accurate voter signature.
"One of the big changes of vote-by-mail is it shifts the responsibility for getting it right when we vote from the poll worker to the voter," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
Beginning next month, California counties will mail every voter a ballot, and many counties are choosing to offer fewer in-person voting opportunities than in years past due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There's no evidence that expanding vote-by-mail will lead to widespread voter fraud, as vote-by-mail critics like President Trump have asserted.
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"The problem of ballot rejection is evidence of the fact that we don't have widespread fraud," Alexander said. "Ballots that aren't postmarked by Election Day don't get counted. People who forget to sign their envelopes, those ballots don't get counted. Ballot rejection is evidence of the fact that we have election security."
The California Voter Foundation study found an average of 1.7% of vote-by-mail ballots were rejected each election over the last decade
The study focused on rejected ballots in three northern California counties during the 2018 midterm election. That year, Sacramento and San Mateo counties mailed a ballot to all registered voters, while Santa Clara county sent ballots to voters who signed up to vote-by-mail.
As Sacramento and San Mateo counties shifted to mailing every voter a ballot, they saw a corresponding spike in the number of ballots rejected.
Young voters were especially likely to have their ballots left uncounted: Rejection rates for 18- to 24-year-olds in the counties were three times higher than the overall rejection rates.
In San Mateo, 3.5% of ballots cast by 18- to 24-year-olds were rejected, compared to 1.0% for all of the county's voters. In Santa Clara County, young voters accounted for just 7.4% of vote-by-mail voters, but 25.5% of rejected ballots.
"Young voters have several factors working against them: They are new to voting, they are less familiar with using the U.S. mail and they're not accustomed to using a signature," Alexander said. "And all of those are really important factors when you want to cast a vote-by-mail ballot."
Newly registered voters also had their ballots rejected at higher rates in all three counties. (Full Story)