New Research, Toolkit Identify Common Vote-by-Mail Errors in California

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[Image courtesy of myticketrescue]

Earlier this year, I blogged about the large number of vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots that were uncounted in California’s June primary. Now, new research by a collaboration between California election officials and advocates is spotlighting why most uncounted VBM get that way – and what can be done about it. The James Irvine Foundation has more:

With Election Day less than a month away, new research shows that many California voters are at risk of having their vote-by-mail ballots go uncounted for due to one of three common errors – returning them too late, returning them without signing the envelope, or using a signature that can’t be matched against existing records.

T[uesday], members of the Future of California Elections (FoCE) host[ed] a luncheon panel in Sacramento to launch an effort to help policymakers, staff and the statewide election community educate voters on how to prevent those errors from happening.

Central to this effort is a new free toolkit for vote-by-mail education, including sample news releases and social media messaging that can be used by election officials, civic engagement groups, news organizations and anyone else interested in helping voters cast timely and valid vote-by-mail ballots.

“Each statewide election, tens of thousands of vote-by-mail ballots cast go uncounted. In November 2012, approximately one percent of the mail ballots cast were not counted, representing an estimated 66,000 Californians who ended up disenfranchised,” said the California Voter Foundation’s Kim Alexander, a FOCE member. “These statistics underline the importance of having every single vote count, especially in close races such as the recent June primary race for controller that came down to a mere 400 votes,” she added.

“New research shows that the vast majority of vote-by-mail ballots rejected are because of these three errors,” said Jill LaVine, Sacramento County Registrar of Voters. “It’s our hope that by launching this campaign in advance of Election Day, we can reach those voters in Sacramento and across California whose ballots might otherwise go uncounted.”

Also featured at the event was new research by Mindy Romero of UC-Davis’ California Civic Engagement Project, who found that that uncounted VBM ballots were higher among younger and limited-English voters as well as military and overseas voters.

Efforts like these in California are likely to gain traction elsewhere, given the large and growing number of voters who are casting their ballots by mail. At the same time, I would expect more election officials also to be looking to expand other ways for voters to cast their votes outside the traditional polling place, whether via early voting or Election Day vote centers.

Either way, congratulations to the Future of California Elections both for diagnosing why most uncounted VBM ballots get that way and for reaching out to voters through the media and community organizations to make sure that the common “unforced errors” of returning late and missing/invalid signature are reduced as much as possible.

It will be interesting to see if the word now gets out to California voters and if these errors decrease in this November’s general election. Stay tuned!

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