What is ballot "curing"? How voters can fix their ballots Ballot rejections are often the result of relatively minor voter errors. That's why about half of states have a process in place to help voters fix their mail ballots if they do make a mistake.

Voting explainer: In many states, there's a process to fix an error with your ballot

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Many states have begun mailing out ballots for this year's midterms. And according to data, hundreds of thousands of mail ballots are typically rejected in every big American election, mostly due to minor and avoidable errors made by voters. But there's been a lot of misinformation around mail-in voting since the 2020 election, so NPR's voting team is explaining some of the nuts and bolts ahead of November 8. Let's turn now to NPR's Ashley Lopez. Hi.


FADEL: So today we are talking about ballot rejections and what voters can do to fix them. What kind of mistakes do voters make?

LOPEZ: So most ballot rejections are actually the result of, like, pretty minor voter errors often related to security measures that are designed to verify a voter's identity, so, like, a voter ID or a signature, sometimes both. Sylvia Albert with Common Cause told me voters can often be tripped up by all this. And since you're voting at home, there's really no way for someone to catch that you made a mistake.

SYLVIA ALBERT: You don't have an election worker there who can answer any questions you have or direct you to somebody else who can help. You are just alone on your kitchen table. And we know that it can be very complicated, depending on the ballot.

LOPEZ: That's why roughly half the country has a process in place for giving voters a way to fix their mistakes so their vote is counted. And this is referred to as a ballot cure.

FADEL: OK. So how does a voter go about curing the ballot they've sent back?

LOPEZ: Well, again, this only applies to certain states, so listeners should check their state's policies. But for the most part, the process is pretty simple, right? An election official will flag a ballot for rejection and then try to get in touch with the voter. State laws usually outline what an official can or cannot do. Sometimes they can just send letters or call. Some have the leeway to use social media or other methods to track a voter down if their contact information on file isn't updated or useful or something. Once they're notified, again, depending where you live, you have a certain amount of time to get that ballot fixed. Some states set a hard deadline tied to Election Day. Others give voters more time. And depending on your state's laws, you might be required to either submit a whole new ballot or send some sort of statement or affidavit letting officials know that the ballot was, in fact, yours.

FADEL: So how big of a difference does ballot curing actually make during elections?

LOPEZ: You know, states with ballot cure throw out a slightly smaller share of mail ballots than states without it. Jose Altamirano at the Harvard Kennedy School told me that mostly the combination of making mail voting more accessible as well as ballot cure lowers rejection rates.

JOSE ALTAMIRANO: The more stringent the requirements are to cast a vote by mail, the higher the rejection rate is, which makes sense because the more hoops a voter has to go through to cast their ballot, the more likely it is that they might make a clerical error.

LOPEZ: Ultimately, the share of ballots rejected is small in this country, often, like, 1%. But across the country for a big election, that's hundreds of thousands of votes, which, you know, could matter in a close election.

FADEL: Right. NPR's Ashley Lopez, thank you so much.

LOPEZ: Yeah, thank you.

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