Rejected mail-in ballots are showing racial disparities

SEATTLE – Of the thousands of mail-in ballots that were rejected in Washington State in the 2020 election, auditors found that black ballots were thrown out at twice the rate. four times that of white voters.

The denials, all due to questionable signatures, excluded one out of 40 mail-in ballots from Blacks – a finding that has raised concerns in the national debate over voters’ access rights. tri and secure voting. Washington, a state with extensive experience in mail-in voting, found that rejection rates also increased for Native American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander voters.

State officials said there was no indication that ballots were intentionally picked by Blacks or other minority voters by poll workers, or that any ballots were intentionally tampered with. deviated; The denials are the result of signatures that are missing or don’t match the signatures on file, a possible outcome, officials said, due to voter inexperience, issues with language or other factors.

“Frankly, that is unacceptable,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy, a Democrat whose office conducts audit. She urged election officials to take steps to address the disparity.

The findings in Washington State mirror vote-by-mail research that has been done in other states in recent years, including Georgia and Florida. But they are important in a state like Washington, which in 2011 became the second state to adopt all-mail voting, after Oregon. Voting by mail has been an option for all statewide elections since 1991.

Voter turnout in all-voting states is among the highest in the nation and is often seen as key to attracting voters who may not be able to vote because of political challenges. work, child care or transportation. It has become an increasingly popular choice during the pandemic, with 43 percent of voters Voting by mail nationwide in the 2020 general election.

Republicans have passed legislation in recent months to limit mail-in voting, expressing concern that mail-in ballots could be vulnerable to fraud, intimidation or misplacement by mail. President Donald J. Trump falsely claimed that elections by mail would be rigged with overseas printed ballots and children breaking into mailboxes. Washington and other states with vote-by-mail seen little evidence of fraudNote the barcodes, tracking and data verification systems used to track ballots both before and after the election.

Democrats and suffrage advocates have called for an easier vote-by-mail option, and a growing number of states are already doing so.

Eight states now send each voter a ballot by mail by default, even as many states continue to operate in-person polling stations. Some states have allowed voting by mail for county or city elections. All states have some option for absentee ballots for voters who cannot show up to vote on Election Day.

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, says voting by mail is crucial to broadening access, including to Black voters who have previously faced challenges legal and practical impediments to voting. She said it was essential to address widespread rejection of mail-in ballots.

“That shouldn’t just concern me as a black American,” she said. “That should be of interest to anyone interested in democracy.”

In Washington State, counties mail ballots to all voters about three weeks before an election. Voters have until Election Day to fill out their ballot, sign the envelope, and return it – in one of the drop boxes or by mail, as long as it is postmarked by Election Day. nominate. The elections officer checks the voter’s signature on the envelope against the voter registration file to ensure a match and then processes the ballot for counting.

Auditors found nearly 29,000 ballots were rejected because of various signature issues during the 2020 general election – signatures were missing or didn’t match what was on file. Looking for signs of bias, the state examined thousands of accepted and rejected signatures more closely, but the auditors largely agreed with the decisions made by county elections officials. and found nothing in the way the ballots were examined that could explain the disparity.

Other groups with higher rejection rates are men, younger voters and less experienced voters of all races and ethnicities. The audit also found that disapproval rates varied by county, a difference the auditor said may reflect varying degrees of rigor in signature matching.

Young voters, who frequently change their signatures, and language barriers for some racial and ethnic groups could also explain some of the denials, the auditors said.

Ms. McCarthy recounted that her own ballot was once rejected with a mismatched signature, with a ballot containing a shortened version of her name and a ballot containing her full name plus initials.

Elections officials must notify voters to give them an opportunity to resolve disagreements. The audit focused on unresolved ballots.

The disparities found in states other than the rejected ballots mirror those found in Washington. The researchers examined Vote by mail from the 2018 Georgia election found that racial and ethnic groups were more likely to be denied ballots on time than white voters. Similar differences were found in 2018 Florida election by researchers working with the American Civil Liberties Union, an assessment also found disparities among young voters, first-time voters, and military personnel. Journalists found similar trends in North Carolina and Colorado – and formerly in Washington state.

Last year, two advocacy groups filed lawsuits against several counties in Washington State alleging that they discriminated against Latino voters and other racial minorities because of similar rates of vote rejection by voters with Latino names. relative higher. A Latino judge in the case reused himself, noting that his own ballot signature was initially rejected in the previous election.

Ms. McCarthy, the state auditor, said she remained a strong supporter of vote-by-mail and said the audit identified disparities as an effort to further improve the voting system.

Her office report recommends that counties educate voters about the importance of having the right signature, including an explanation of the signature matching process, with targeted efforts across communities. have a higher rejection rate. It also proposes to collect several signature samples from each voter and make an innovative effort to help voters correct mismatch issues as they arise.

Brown, a representative for the Division of Black Voters, said she would like to see the removal of signature verification checks entirely, saying the process introduces the possibility of biased decisions from voters. review the ballots and also challenge those who have changed the way they write their names.

Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University who specializes in voting and elections, said some researchers have explored ways to use personal identifiers instead of signatures to avoid mismatch problems. . But he thinks the heart of the problem may be that inexperienced voters make mistakes on their ballots.

“The question is, what can the state do to improve that?” he say. Rejected mail-in ballots are showing racial disparities

Fry Electronics Team

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