Why younger voters are the most likely to have their absentee ballots rejected

By Steven Rosenfeld,
September 17, 2020


As half or more of the 2020 presidential election’s votes will be cast on mailed-out ballots, a new study on why absentee ballots were rejected in three urban California counties in 2018 reveals why young voters’ ballots were rejected at triple the rate of all voters.

Nationally, it is well known that absentee ballots arriving after state deadlines, problems with a voter’s signature on the return envelope not matching their voter registration form, or a missing signature account for more than half of all rejected ballots, as the latest federal statistics affirm. But a new California Voter Foundation (CVF) study reveals the most likely causes behind those errors, especially for young voters.

In short, the study notes that young (ages 18-34) voters’ signatures can change between registering to vote and voting, causing mismatches on return envelopes. (The envelopes don’t remind voters that their signature has to match their voter registration.)

Additionally, young voters often wait until the last minute to vote, not realizing that voting with an absentee ballot has more steps than voting at an in-person polling place. And young voters may be unfamiliar with mail delivery timetables, leading ballots to arrive past return deadlines.

“In Sacramento County, young voters age 18-24 were most likely to have their ballot rejected due to a mismatched signature, followed by lateness. Voters age 25-34 also had a high rate of non-matching signatures,” the study said. “These factors may be due to young voters’ likely lack of familiarity with using the U.S. Postal Service as well as the possibility that their signature was not fully formed at the time they registered to vote.”

On the other end of the voter age range, a different human factor related to aging—being forgetful—was a cause behind absentee ballot rejections for older voters, the study also found, atop missing filing deadlines.

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“Casting a vote-by-mail ballot is an important safety measure to ensure people can vote during the coronavirus pandemic without putting their or other[s’] health at risk,” said Kim Alexander, CVF’s president and co-author of the report, “Improving California’s Vote-by-Mail Process by Reducing Ballot Rejection: A Three-County Study.”

“But it shifts responsibility for getting it right from poll workers to voters,” she continued. “Late return and envelope signatures missing or not sufficiently matching voters’ signatures on file are the leading reasons why some ballots are rejected.” (Full Story)