Vote 2020: Analyzing Pennsylvania ballot rejection rates in previous years

ByNydia Han and Cheryl Mettendorf via WPVI logo
Thursday, October 22, 2020
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Our Data Journalism Team analyzed the numbers from the 2016 and 2018 elections and they expose troubling information for voters in our area.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- According to Pennsylvania officials, 20% of mail-in ballots for this election have already been cast.

So far nearly 2.9 million Pennsylvanians have applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot for the 2020 election.

That's nearly 32% of Pennsylvania voters.

The Action News Data Journalism Team analyzed the numbers from the 2016 and 2018 elections and they expose troubling information for voters in our area.

Data showed Pennsylvania, the state which could be the tipping point for the 2020 election, had a much higher rejection rate than the national average.

That has left some voters concerned.

"I just want to make sure my vote is counted, and that there are no problems," said Angela Desper of Bala Cynwyd.

While the rejection rate has been small in the last two elections, our analysis found it is growing from less than 1% in 2016 to 1.4% in 2018 nationwide.

And a look at the rejection rate in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania.

The rate is much higher.

Mail-in ballots in the state didn't yet exist in 2018, but absentee ballots were returned via snail mail, and 4.4% of those were thrown out - meaning 8,714 voters lost their voice at the ballot box.

"Any ballot rejected is I think is a shame," said David Thornburg with the non-partisan advocacy group The Committee of Seventy.

Many of the counties with the highest rejection rates for the 2018 midterm were in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Our analysis found Bucks County didn't reject a single ballot.

But, in Philadelphia, 4.3% of returned absentee ballots were rejected.

In Chester County, it was 7.6%.

In Montgomery County, 8% of those votes didn't count.

And Delaware County had the highest rejection rate in our area at 8.4% where votes mailed in were tossed out.

Delaware County Council Christine Reuther said don't let the past dictate the present.

"Don't let the experience in the primary dictate how you're feeling about the general election. We have just been ridiculously under-resourced in terms of personnel, in terms of technology," Reuther said.

Delaware County now has an entirely different election board with all new leadership at the top.

And Reuther said it is far better prepared for 2020.

She had this advice to make sure your mail-in vote counts, "Privacy envelope, sign it, make sure it's your ballot."

Our analysis also identified the most common reasons mail-in votes have been rejected nationwide in past elections:

  • A signature which didn't match the voter registration card
  • A ballot not received on time
  • There was no voter signature

Experts weigh in on how to make sure your vote and voice count:

Councilwoman Christine Reuther of Delaware County:

The three things your ballot's going to get rejected for:

1. There's no signature. You absolutely have to sign and fill out the back voter affirmation on the return envelope. Also make sure you sign your ballot.

2. If it's signed by the wrong person.

3. If it's not in the privacy envelope. All of our ballots go through an automatic sorter and it will reject ballots that are too light that don't seem to have the privacy envelope.

So, make sure you do not send in a naked ballot.

You must put your ballot in the smaller, secrecy envelope.

Do NOT mark that secrecy envelope in anyway.

Do place it inside the outer envelope, which you must fill out and sign.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar:

"If you leave out that at our envelope, not only won't it be counted, but they can't even contact you because they don't know who you are, because you haven't included that outer envelope that identifies who you are. So two envelopes, you need both of them for your ballot to be counted."

Also make sure you meet the deadline which is November 3 by 8 p.m. to put it in the mail.

Again, ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received no later than November 6.

If you return your mail-in ballot in-person, you must do so at your county board of elections office or another designated location or drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day, November 3.

Secretary Boockvar said, "As soon as you deposit it, in that dropbox, you're done. You don't have to worry about mail delays."

Committee of 70's David Thornburgh:

"I requested a mail ballot, and then I dropped it off at the satellite location, because it seemed to me like I was able to cut out the middleman, I don't have to worry about the post office, I can hand my ballot to an election worker puts, it in the box, feel safe and secure, and it's going to get counted."