Absentee ballot rejections declined after Georgia installed drop boxes

January 6, 2021 Atlanta: Fulton County election workers resumed counting ballots at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 an hour later than election officials had planned. Fulton elections director Richard Barron told county commissioners Wednesday morning there are 7,500 absentee ballots left to be uploaded. Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said there are 2,700 left to be processed at Georgia World Congress Center. Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party. The adjudication process for those remaining ballots will begin today at 3 p.m. That means FultonÕs ballots wonÕt be uploaded until after 3 p.m., Barron said. The process will occur at the countyÕs English Street warehouse, which is where votes are actually uploaded once theyÕve been adjudicated. ÒWe have been unfairly, and IÕll state that unequivocally, unfairly criticized by any number of people,Ó Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a virtual press conference, Òno justification whatsoever.Ó State election officials said voting generally went smoothly Tuesday, with short lines and average wait times of about 1 minute. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
January 6, 2021 Atlanta: Fulton County election workers resumed counting ballots at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 an hour later than election officials had planned. Fulton elections director Richard Barron told county commissioners Wednesday morning there are 7,500 absentee ballots left to be uploaded. Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said there are 2,700 left to be processed at Georgia World Congress Center. Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party. The adjudication process for those remaining ballots will begin today at 3 p.m. That means FultonÕs ballots wonÕt be uploaded until after 3 p.m., Barron said. The process will occur at the countyÕs English Street warehouse, which is where votes are actually uploaded once theyÕve been adjudicated. ÒWe have been unfairly, and IÕll state that unequivocally, unfairly criticized by any number of people,Ó Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a virtual press conference, Òno justification whatsoever.Ó State election officials said voting generally went smoothly Tuesday, with short lines and average wait times of about 1 minute. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Ballot boxes and absentee ‘cure’ process helped prevent rejections

Fewer Georgia voters returned their absentee ballots too late in last year’s presidential election, when many of them used drop boxes to avoid the risk of slow mail delivery.

Ballot drop boxes won’t be available for last-minute voting in future elections. Georgia’s new voting law limits drop boxes to early voting locations that close the Friday before election day.

Election data obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that ballot rejections plummeted as a record number of voters, over 1.3 million, cast absentee ballots. The figures were provided by the secretary of state’s office in response to a request under the Open Records Act.

Georgia’s overall absentee ballot rejection rate fell to just 0.6%, in large part because of declines in late-returned ballots and ballots rejected because of minor mistakes. A simplified ballot envelope for 2020 no longer required address and birth year information.

Georgia ballot rejections in 2020
Absentee ballots were most often rejected because they were received after Election Day. In all, election officials rejected 7,604 absentee ballots out of 1.3 million cast.
Source: Georgia secretary of state

By comparison, election officials disqualified about 3% of absentee ballots in 2016 and 4% in 2018.

Rejection rates because of mismatched or missing signatures remained the same, at about 0.2% in each of the past three general elections. In future elections, election officials will verify absentee ballots based on driver’s license or state ID numbers instead of signatures, according to this year’s voting law.

There’s also another major reason that more absentee ballots were counted: Voters were better able to correct problems than in prior years. A state law passed in 2019 gave voters until three days after election day to prove their identities, and election officials were required to quickly contact voters when their ballots were rejected.

There were 2,777 voters who “cured” their absentee ballots that had been initially rejected, according to state election data. Those voters were required to submit identification and sign an affidavit before their ballots could be counted, leaving a final total of 7,604 rejections across Georgia.

The introduction of ballot drop boxes during the coronavirus pandemic partially explains why election officials discarded absentee ballots less often than in the past. Drop boxes were available until polls closed on Election Day, and ballots delivered afterward by the U.S. Postal Service were rejected.

About 0.3% of absentee ballots were returned late in November, about one-fifth the rate of ballots received after the state’s election day deadline in the 2018 election for governor.

Along with drop boxes, the number of late ballots also declined because voters anticipated mail delays and returned their ballots sooner, said Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.

“People got the message that the mail was running slow, and if they were contemplating casting a mail ballot close to the deadline, they were more likely to just vote in person,” McDonald said.

In addition, election officials in some counties stopped incorrectly categorizing unreturned absentee ballots as rejected, a practice that artificially inflated the number of late returns in prior years.

Georgia ballot rejections

Rejected ballots: 7,604 (0.6% of all returned)

Ballots returned after deadline: 4,117

Missing or mismatched signatures: 2,980

Ineligible voters: 376

ID required: 131

Source: Georgia secretary of state

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