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huntsville, alabama, city

Secretary of State talks avoiding rejected mail-in ballots

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — With 26 days to go before the general election on November 3, many people have already started submitting their absentee ballots across the country.

In some states, thousands of mail-in ballots were rejected in the primary elections. So how do Alabamians avoid that happening for the general election?

More Americans than ever are likely to cast a ballot by mail for the first time in this year’s presidential election. Though it sounds like it should be simple, if completed improperly, your ballot may be rejected.

In the primary elections held during the pandemic this year, rejection rates of returned absentee and mail-in ballots in five key battleground states ranged from a little under 1% to nearly 2%, according to CBS News.

So in the vast majority of cases, votes cast by mail are counted but that still leaves thousands of rejected ballots. Secretary of State John Merrill says that’s not surprising.

“Ballots are always rejected every election cycle because people either refuse or elect not to follow the directions,” said Merrill.

A missing signature, an unverified signature, or late arrival are the most common reasons for a ballot to be rejected, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission report from the 2016 election. In that election, 318,728 ballots — just under 1% of returned absentee ballots — were rejected across the country.

“If you choose not to complete all of the requirements that are on the application… For example, checking the excuse… Also when you sign it, you have to make sure you sign your name as required,” he said. “Now when you’re submitting your ballot, you have to make sure that you have two witnesses that sign or a notary that signs on your behalf.”

CBS News analyzed 2020 primary election data in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — three key states that determined the 2016 presidential election by fewer than 80,000 combined votes — and found the following rejection rates based on data from state election officials:

  • Wisconsin: 22,401 ballots rejected of 1,182,201 absentee ballots returned, 1.9%. The 2016 election was decided by 22,748 votes. *This does not account for rejections marked as “superseding ballot returned.”
  • Michigan: 6,606 ballots rejected of 876,060 absentee ballots returned, 0.8%. The 2016 election was decided by 10,704 votes. *This does not account for voters who had their absentee ballots rejected because they voted at the polls.
  • Pennsylvania: 26,594 ballots rejected out of 1,486,143 absentee ballots returned, 1.8%. The 2016 election was decided by 44,292 votes. *This does not account for rejected ballots marked as “label canceled,” “replaced,” or “vote canceled” (which includes voters who cast in-person votes, thus voiding an absentee ballot)

CBS News also analyzed data from the June 2020 primary in Georgia, an emerging battleground state, and found at least 11,000 mail-in ballots were rejected, out of more than 1.1 million returned mail ballots, based on the most recent data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

What if there is an issue with your ballot? Well, 45 states allow you to track your ballot and Alabama is one of them. Merrill says the steps are simple:

  1. Visit alabamavotes.gov
  2. Click the ‘Absentee Voting‘ icon
  3. Click ‘Track the status of your absentee ballot.

“Once you track the status of your ballot… It will tell you when your absentee application has been received,” said Merrill.

If you submit an absentee ballot, Merrill says you should not have to show up to the polls on Nov. 3 unless there is a reason.

“If for some reason you believe that your ballot was not received and it’s not reflected on the tracker, of course you could show up and vote in person on Election Day, but you would have to cast a provisional ballot and when you cast a provisional ballot and your absentee ballot arrives in time, the provisional vote would not count. If it does not arrive in time, then you’ll know your provisional ballot did count for the candidate of your choice.”

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 29.

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