Election Analysis: Rejected Absentee Ballots, & How to Prevent Them in November

Election Analysis: Rejected Absentee Ballots in Primary, and How to Prevent Them in November

(Pleasant Ridge Mayor and Data Expert Kurt Metzger, Sept. 8, 2020)

My last piece on the August Primary Election takes absentee voting to its logical conclusion – the issue of rejected ballots and how to prevent widespread rejections in November.

A total of 2,083,100 absentee ballots were requested across Michigan for the primary.  Of these, 1,638,626 (78.7 percent) were returned to local clerks’ offices.  A total of 18,042 of the returned ballots were rejected for one reason or another.  This amounts to only 1.1 percent of the total received.  The primary reasons for rejection were “Ballot was Late,” which accounted for 40.5 percent, and “Person Voted at the Polls,” which accounted for 35.5 percent.  The remaining reasons, in order of prevalence were “No Signature” at 8.0 percent, “Voter Moved” at 6.2 percent, “Voter Deceased” at 4.7 percent, and “Signature Did Not Match” at 4.4 percent.

Oakland County had a slightly higher rejection rate of 1.7 percent of their total 261,890 absentee ballots. Reasons for rejection matched the state, though the top 2 shifted position, in that “Late Ballots” (40.0 percent) and “Person Voted at Polls” (45.3 percent) accounted for more than 4 or five rejections. The remaining reasons, in order of prevalence were “No Signature” at 4.3 percent, “Voter Moved” at 4.0 percent, “Signature Did Not Match” at 3.7 percent, and “Voter Deceased” at 2.4 percent.

The chart below provides the ranking of percent rejected for all Oakland County jurisdictions. Among the five communities with rejection rates of 3.0 percent or higher, voters deciding to show up at the polls was the primary reason for rejection.  Bloomfield Township topped the list with 4%, while some communities like  Clarkston, Novi Township, Lake Angelus, and Keego Harbor did not have any.

Those who worry about voter fraud should find this assuring, knowing that the system worked to prevent double-voting.

As absentee voting is on the rise, there are things people can do to protect themselves and their vote.

Registered voters can request an absentee ballot online through the state’s absentee voter request form before October 30.

An application for an absentee ballot was mailed to every registered voter in Michigan. If you did not receive one or cannot find it, you can:

~Call your city or township clerk and ask that an application be mailed to you

~Download an application to return by mail or in person to your local clerk or township


Requests for an absent voter ballot must be received by your township or city clerk no later than 5 p.m. the Friday before the election. If you’re already registered at your current address, you can request an absent voter ballot in person at your clerk’s office anytime up to 4 p.m. on the day prior to the election.

If you’re registering to vote or updating your address by appearing at your clerk’s office on Election Day, you can request an absent voter ballot at the same time you register. If you request your AV ballot the day before the election or on Election Day, you must vote the ballot in the clerk’s office.

Your completed absentee ballot must be received by your city or township clerk by 8 p.m. on Election Day.  Begin the process early by mailing in your application for an absentee ballot as soon as possible. Your application for the November General Election can be submitted now.

If a voter has already voted absentee and wishes to change their vote (because the candidate has dropped out of the race, or for any other reason), a voter can spoil their ballot by submitting a written request to their city or township clerk.

~The voter must sign the request and state if they would like a new absentee ballot mailed to them or if they will pick it up in person at the clerk’s office.

~This request must be received by 2 p.m. the Saturday before the election if received by mail. An absentee ballot may be spoiled in person at the clerk’s office until 4 p.m. the Monday prior to the election.

~If a voter has not returned his or her ballot, the voter can surrender the ballot or sign a statement stating that the ballot was lost or destroyed and vote at the polls. There is no option on Election Day to spoil an absentee ballot that has been received by the clerk.

Majority of rejections could be fixed with changes to law

The majority of disenfranchised voters in last week’s statewide primary could easily have had their votes counted with small changes in law, preliminary data on rejected ballot numbers show. Of the approximately 10,600 rejected ballots, more than 8,600 (over 80 percent) were due to signature verification issues or late arrival – issues that could be fixed by bills already introduced in the state legislature.

“The data demonstrates that thousands of people who cast otherwise valid votes were not able to participate in last week’s election solely because the Legislature failed to act ahead of the primary,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “With turnout and absentee ballot numbers expected to double or even triple in November, we could be looking at tens of thousands of Michigan citizens disenfranchised if the legislature again fails to act.”

Benson has been vocal in her calls on the Michigan Legislature to take up a series of election reform bills that would provide additional support to clerks and voters ahead of the November election. These include:

~HB 5987 would allow mailed ballots to count if postmarked by Election Day even if they arrive up to two days later.

~HB 5991 would require clerks to contact voters if the signature on the absentee ballot does not match the one on their registration.

Previous stories: Election Analysis: A Look at Absentee Ballots Across Oakland County (Aug. 31, 2020)

Voter Turnout by City, Numbers Metzger Calls Disappointing (Aug. 11, 2020)

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