Now that a majority of California voters prefer the mailbox over the ballot box, vote-by-mail ballots pour in as the November 4th election rapidly approaches. Unfortunately, many of these ballots will be rejected due to voter mistakes. New research reveals demographic disparities in California’s unsuccessful vote-by-mail ballots, finding youth are more likely to have their vote-by-mail ballots rejected than older voters.
In November 2012, one percent of all vote-by-mail ballots cast in California were disqualified. That’s roughly 69,000 ballots that were cast but not counted. While it may seem small, California’s rejection rate is among the highest in the nation.
A report released by the California Civic Engagement Project (CCEP) at UC Davis finds that rejection rates vary considerably by age group. Examining 2012 voter data to try to better understand the demographic makeup of unsuccessful vote-by-mail voters, the report shows that young California voters, those between the ages of 18-24, cast a disproportionately large share of rejected ballots compared to their share of all ballots cast.
In the last presidential election, youth comprised just 8 percent of total votes cast in California but accounted for 23 percent of disqualified vote-by-mail ballots, according to the report authored by Mindy Romero, CCEP Executive Director. Overall, young voters cast more unsuccessful vote-by-mail ballots in the last presidential election than any other age group.
The report identifies late arrival, signature irregularities, and no signature as the three most common reasons why vote-by-mail ballots are rejected. However, the frequency of reasons for rejection is not the same across all age groups.
Procrastinators beware. The majority of rejections among young voters are attributed to late arrival. Nearly two-thirds of rejected youth vote-by-mail ballots arrived too late to be counted in 2012, compared to roughly a quarter among voters over the age of 65, according to the report. Under current law, vote-by-mail ballots must be received by 8:00 pm on Election Day. Post marks don’t count, yet (they will starting in 2015).
It’s called “snail mail” for a reason. Mail your ballot the week before the election to ensure it arrives in time to be counted. So listen up last-minute voters: Use the ballot box not the mailbox. If you don’t mail your ballot in early, drop it off at a polling place in your county by 8:00 pm on Election Day but don’t forget to sign the return envelope.
If your parents or grandparents vote-by-mail, remind them to sign the return envelope before dropping it in the mail. According to the report, forgetting to sign the envelope is the most common reason vote-by-mail ballots cast by voters over the age of 55 go uncounted. By contrast, slightly less than 7 percent of youth ballots were rejected due to missing signatures.
Timely cast vote-by-mail ballots must clear an additional hurdle before being counted; signature verification. Sloppy writers must also be wary. If elections officials determine the signature on a voter’s ballot envelope does not match the one on the voter’s registration form, the ballot is disqualified.
While a smaller proportion of youth ballots were rejected due to signatures irregularities compared to other age groups, the report points out that only voters aged 25 – 34 cast a greater number of unsuccessful vote-by-mail ballots caused by non-matching signatures.
Don’t be disenfranchised for poor penmanship. Make sure to sign the envelope the same way as when you registered to vote. If you registered to vote online, check the signature on your driver’s license.
No one likes rejection. Avoid it by remembering to sign the return envelope in your own handwriting and mailing your ballot in early.
As the popularity of mail-in balloting grows, the study reveals a clear need to educate young voters about the vote-by-mail process to reduce the number of Californians being unnecessarily disenfranchised by technical mistakes. Ensuring every valid and timely cast ballot is counted is vital to the legitimacy and health of our democracy.