RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Thousands of absentee ballots get rejected in every presidential election. But locals may be wondering, why would their vote not count? How often does it happen?
8News has poured over the data and found the vast majority of votes cast by mail are counted. Yet, in the upcoming election, Virginia and other states are seeing a record number of absentee ballots.
On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed in Richmond for a list of voters with ballot errors. The good news is, Virginia voters who make a mistake in this election, should get a chance to correct it.
8News found that in the 2016 presidential election, just under 1% of returned absentee ballots were rejected across the country.
The Election Administration and Voting Survey: 2016 Comprehensive Report
That’s according to a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. 8News uncovered that in Virginia, amid the 2016 presidential election, 4,034 absentee ballots were rejected for various reasons.
“They are not terribly common. It’s a pretty small percentage,” said Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper.
According to Piper, that accounts for about 2% to 3% of all returned absentee ballots in the commonwealth in the 2016 election.
Locally, the Virginia Department of Elections told 8News that no absentee ballot was tossed out in the 2016 presidential election in Henrico and Richmond. In Chesterfield, 8News learned six ballots were rejected for lack of a signature.
“That signature is usually what is left off,” Piper added.
Statewide, forgetting to sign that ballot was a common mistake. Another issue in 2016 was witness signatures missing from ballots. In total, 757 incidents across Virginia were reported.
Rejections marked under “other” made up 45% of rejected absentee ballots. Missing witness signatures made up close to 19% of rejected ballots.
Yet, a witness signature is no longer needed. A court decision waived the witness signature requirement for the upcoming election.
The third most common issue was voters listing an address different from their voter registration address, this accounted for close to 10% of returned ballots.
Constance Hargrove, the General Registrar and Director of Elections in Chesterfield County, told 8News other common errors include leaving off an address, the wrong address, or failing to put the absentee ballot in its secrecy sleeve known as “Envelope B.”
“They don’t put the ballot in the B envelope. They put it in the return envelope with the B envelope. It has to be in the B envelope for it to count,” Hargrove said.
Moreover, in the past, Virginians may have never known their ballot was rejected.
Under a new law, Virginia voters who make an error on their absentee ballot will have options to get their vote counted.
“They call it a ‘Cure’ process. We contact the voter to give them an opportunity to come and fix that problem,” Hargrove said.
“That can be done by phone, email, or letter,” Piper added.
The Brennan Center for Justice shows that Virginia has the two policies that help ensure voting by mail is accessible. Virginia meets their criteria by providing notice and an opportunity to fix a signature defect after election day and accepting mailed ballots postmarked before election day that arrive late.
Registrars have to move quickly, which is why many have already started processing absentee ballots.
“They have three days with which to reach out to the voter,” Piper said.
Commissioner Piper admits logistically that if an absentee ballot arrives on Election Day or after a mistake, it will be hard to offer voters a chance to rectify.
His best advice to locals: If one is voting absentee, retrieve their ballot immediately.