Less than 1 percent of absentee/mail-in ballots were rejected in 2020

Welcome to the Monday, August 23, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 0.8% of absentee/mail-in ballots were rejected in 2020
  2. 45 years ago, Alaska voters approved constitutional amendment allowing the removal of residency requirements for voting in presidential elections
  3. COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

0.8% of absentee/mail-in ballots were rejected in 2020

Ballotpedia recently completed our analysis of rejection rates in last year’s general election which determined that 0.8% of the 70,550,699 absentee/mail-in ballots cast were rejected. By comparison, 1.4% of the 30.4 million absentee/mail-in ballots cast in 2018 were rejected, and 1.0% of 33.4 million such ballots were rejected in 2016. Our analysis of turnout and absentee/mail-in data is based on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) annual “Election Administration and Voting Survey” released on August 16 and state-level data. 

Absentee/mail-in ballots can be rejected for a number of reasons ranging from a missed deadline to the use of an incorrect return envelope. The exact criteria for rejecting an absentee/mail-in ballot is determined on a state-by-state basis. In 2020, the most common reason for rejection was a non-matching signature—meaning the signature on the absentee/mail-in ballot did not match the signature on file for the voter. This accounted for 32.8% of all rejected ballots.

All states allow for some form of absentee/mail-in voting, and many implemented or changed policies regarding absentee/mail-in voting in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a breakdown of absentee/mail-in voting practices used in 2020:

  • Nine states and Washington, D.C., used an automatic absentee/mail-in ballot system. In five of those and Washington, D.C., this was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Five states required voters to provide an approved reason in order to receive an absentee/mail-in ballot and had done so since at least 2016.
  • Thirty-six states either allowed voters to request an absentee/mail-in ballot without providing a reason or expanded the reasons to include fear of contracting or spreading the coronavirus.
    • In 11 of these states, this eligibility was either expanded or effectively expanded to all voters in 2020 in response to COVID-19.

From 2018 to 2020, the percentage of rejected absentee/mail-in ballots increased in eight states and decreased in 41. Alabama was excluded due to incomplete data.

The three states with the largest increases in rejection rates since 2018 were:

  1. New Mexico (+4.7)
  2. Mississippi (+1.6)
  3. Oregon (+0.7)

The three states with the largest decreases in rejection rates since 2018 were:

  1. New York (-10.1)
  2. Kentucky (-6.3)
  3. North Carolina (-5.3)

Voters returned 17.3 million absentee/mail-in ballots in the 25 states won by Donald Trump (R) in 2020. Of that total, 100,598 were rejected for an overall rejection rate of 0.6%.

Joe Biden (D) won 25 states and Washington, D.C., which, collectively, saw 53.2 absentee/mail-in ballots returned. Of that total, 460,045 were rejected, giving those states an overall rejection rate of 0.9%.

Click the link below for even more information on absentee/mail-in ballot rejection rates, including our complete data set, excerpts from state laws regarding absentee ballots, and comparisons with 2016. 

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45 years ago, Alaska voters approved constitutional amendment allowing the removal of residency requirements for voting in presidential elections 

On this date 45 years ago—on August 23, 1966—Alaska voters approved a measure that permitted the state legislature to shorten the residency requirement for persons living in Alaska who wished to vote only for President and Vice President of the United States. It was the first measure the state legislature referred to the ballot since Alaska achieved statehood in January 1959. The amendment passed, 75% to 25%.

According to a 1963 Senate Judiciary Committee report on proposed constitutional amendments, 35 states required residents to live in their current state for one year before becoming eligible to vote. These laws prevented people from voting—even for President—when they moved between states. The Senate even drafted a constitutional amendment to eliminate such requirements nationwide. The quote below from that Senate Judiciary Committee report summarized the issue:

“The victims of these outmoded residence requirements include many citizens who are best equipped to exercise the right of voting, such as educators, clergymen, and professional people. Interstate businesses constantly shift managers, salesmen, and other executives. The American Heritage Foundation estimates that 8 million adult American citizens were barred from the ballot box in the 1960 elections by inability to meet State, county, or precinct residence requirements. Apart from the possible effects upon election results, this produces apathy and bitterness in such people toward governments which cheat them of their democratic birthright merely because they move their residence.”

The Alaska measure removed the one-year voter residency requirement that was in the state Constitution. The following year—in 1967—the Alaska legislature eliminated those residency requirements in state law. 

In 1970, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act and abolished state residency requirements nationwide as a precondition for voting for President and established uniform standards for absentee voting in presidential elections.

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COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

Here’s a look at some noteworthy policy changes and events regarding COVID-19 that took place one year ago this week:

Federal government responses:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had authorized the drug remdesivir to be used on all patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Previously, the FDA had permitted the use of remdesivir only on patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

State court changes:

  • New Hampshire conducted its first jury trial since the start of the pandemic as part of a pilot program. The state’s judicial branch required everyone in the courtroom to wear a mask and for jurors to be spread out in the gallery.

Mask requirements:

  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) extended the state’s mask mandate through Oct. 2.

Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) released a new color-coded reopening plan called “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” Counties were classified as one of four colors—purple, red, orange, and yellow—based on coronavirus spread. Different business restrictions applied to each of the color levels.
  • Governors in seven states—Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, and Michigan—issued, extended, or modified executive orders regarding restrictions on certain activities and businesses.