About 20 million ballots mailed out for the November general election were not returned, the federal government’s Election Assistance Commission says in a report detailing the successes and hiccups of the voting.
For the first time, mail was the most popular form of voting in a federal election and fewer than half of voters cast ballots in person on Election Day. Voters responded to what the commission called “drastic” changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those who wanted to cast ballots had little trouble, and a record number of Americans did just that. Officials in the states and territories recorded 161,303,109 votes cast and counted.
The report does nothing to bolster former President Donald Trump’s unproven claims of a stolen election, but it does add ammunition to debates about Republican demands for voter integrity and Democratic worries about voter suppression.
“The turnout data show that it has never been easier to register to vote or to vote than it is now,” said J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a voter integrity group. “The EAC report debunks the false narrative that barriers to voting exist. The barriers we hear about from people like Stacey Abrams are fake barriers.”
The Washington Times reached out to several groups pushing for more expansive voting, including mail-in ballots, but none commented for this article.
The commission’s report is compiled from a survey of state officials on their experiences in each election. It asks about numbers of polling locations, types of voting machines, recruitment of poll workers and other issues.
Among the findings:
• Turnout in 2020 was 67.7% of the estimated citizen voting-age population, which was up 6.7 percentage points from the 2016 presidential election year.
• States counted 41.2 million in-person votes cast early, 47.1 million Election Day in-person votes and 69.5 million mailed ballots.
• Election officials mailed 90.7 million ballots, more than double the rate of 2016, and said about 70.5 million of them were filled out and returned.
• The commission said states rejected 560,826 of those mailed ballots. Arkansas and New Mexico each nixed at least 5% of their mailed ballots — the highest rate among states. New York had a 3.6% rejection rate, or about 67,000 ballots.
• Officials said it was easier than usual to recruit poll workers, with more than 775,000 serving. Although older Americans remained the largest cohort, those younger than 40 increased their share. The commission noted COVID-19 risk factors among senior citizens.
A handful of states had already run all-mail elections, in which every voter is sent a ballot. More states embraced the idea last year. A mailed ballot can be returned by the Postal Service or dropped off at a voting station. A voter usually can vote in person, which should negate the mailed ballot.
One worry was that elections officials could not account for millions of live ballots. It was not clear who received them or what happened to them. Those who back expanded mail voting say there was no mystery: Those who chose not to vote discarded the ballots they received.
Mr. Adams and other election integrity advocates say each mailed ballot is an opportunity to cheat. The worry wasn’t so much that ballots weren’t returned but what it said about the ballots that were mailed back, who actually cast them and under what circumstances.
Mr. Adams’ group said Maricopa County sent more than 110,000 ballots to outdated addresses in Arizona, a state President Biden carried by 10,457 votes. Clark County, Nevada, rejected 93,279 mailed ballots. Mr. Biden won the state by 33,596 votes.
“These figures detail how the 2020 push to mail voting needs to be a one-year experiment,” Mr. Adams said. “Some of the counties with the least experience in administering mail voting rejected the most ballots nationwide. If continued, 2020-style chaos will become the norm.”
Heading into 2020, some analysts predicted major hiccups with the number of jurisdictions moving to expand mail-in voting, pushing it on voters not familiar with the process. In the end, elections officials rejected less than 1% of mailed ballots, or fewer than 561,000.
The most common reason was a mismatch between a ballot’s signature and the one on file for that voter. That happened in nearly 184,000 instances.
More than 7,500 ballots were nixed when that same voter also cast a ballot in person.
In more than 3,300 cases, election officials said someone mailed back a ballot that they had no record of sending.
Nearly 9,000 ballots were rejected because the person who cast them had died. One of the quirks of the state-run election system is that some states refuse ballots cast by voters who die before Election Day. Other states allow them.
Congressional Democrats pushed a bill through the House on Tuesday that would update the Voting Rights Act of 1965, creating a new formula for deeming which states are so racist that their elections need intense Justice Department supervision. The bill also would make it easier for courts to block voting changes in the states.
The legislation is a slimmed-down version of an election overhaul that would set national standards for conducting elections, including automatic voter registration, nixing voter ID laws and requiring states to offer mailed balloting without requiring a reason. It also would upend the way most states draw their legislative district maps.
The bill also would regulate how states cleanse their election rolls. Voting rights activists say they fear valid voters are being knocked off rolls without sufficient reason, amounting to another form of suppression.
Some roll-cleaning, though, is routine.
The Election Assistance Commission said states removed nearly 18.8 million names, or about 8.2% of all registered voters, from their lists from 2018 through 2020. In about a third of those instances, a voter was nixed after failing to respond to a notice. The next two most frequent reasons were moving out of a jurisdiction or the death of a voter.