Early votingabsentee-ballot is on the rise as voters take advantage of increased flexibility about how and when to cast their ballot. As a result, many voters are receiving and returning their ballot by mail–potentially as many as one in five voters this year. However, in 2012 more than a quarter of a million absentee ballots were rejected.

This week, Future of California Elections hosted a Vote by Mail Panel to talk about common reasons a vote-by-mail ballot is not counted. The California Civic Engagement Project found that the most common reasons a vote by-mail-ballot was not counted (in California) were that:

  1. the ballot was late,
  2. there was a signature issue (e.g. signature did not match the one on file), and
  3. there was no signature.

These state-specific findings are very similar to national trends: In 2012, the main reasons ballots were rejected were 1) missed deadline (34.7%), 2) lack of valid signature (18.7%), and 3) non-matching signature (19%).

In the 2012 general election in California, 1% of all vote-by-mail ballots were rejected (same as the nationwide rate) and in the 2014 June primary it was 2.9%. While the percentage may be low, in a state like California that adds up to tens of thousands of ballots each election. Unfortunately many jurisdictions do not proactively notify voters if their ballot is not counted (though in many areas voters can follow up to see if their ballot was counted).

To help combat this, the Future of California Elections released a Vote By Mail Toolkit in eight languages that encourages voters to:

  1. Mail back their ballot early–preferably the week before Election Day–to allow time for it to arrive.
  2. Remember to sign the envelope.
  3. Remember that ballots must be received by 8pm on Election Day.

The toolkit includes social media samples, emails, and other communication ideas to help spread the word. While some of the specifics will need to be changed to accurately reflect your state’s rules, these messages are a great starting point for talking to your community about returning vote-by-mail ballots and how to ensure that they are counted.

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4 Comments

Ryan Andresen  May 18 2016 at 7:49 PM

My voter registration was recently returned because the signature did not match what they have on file. How do I prevent this from happening with my ballot? I have no idea what signature they have on file. For all I know, I could have just wrote my name in print at the DMV when I was 16. How can I possibly make sure I do not get this signature issue again when there is no way of finding out how I signed when I was younger and did not yet have a constant signature? If I take my vote by mail ballot to a polling location will this still happen?

Julian E Johannesen  Jul 13 2016 at 3:01 PM

Hi Ryan, we’re so sorry that we didn’t see this comment earlier. This is a great question. The best way to address it is to call your local department of motor vehicles and make an appointment to go in and update your driver’s license.

Suzy Kirschenman Parmeter  Oct 14 2016 at 12:50 AM

Hello! So is it the DMV signature that is used and not the signature from when you register to vote? If we match our signature to the one on our license, will that suffice?

nonprofitvote  Oct 14 2016 at 3:10 PM

Hi Suzy,

My understanding is that the signature you have on file with the DMV is will appear in the poll book when you go to vote. Of course, not every state asks you to sign the poll book or to show ID, so I’m not really sure why they do it this way.

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