Thousands Of Mail-Voting Ballots Rejected For Arriving Late An NPR analysis finds that at least 65,000 absentee and mail-in ballots were rejected this year for arriving late. While it's a relatively small number, they could prove crucial in a close election.
NPR logo

Signed, Sealed, Undelivered: Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Rejected For Tardiness

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Signed, Sealed, Undelivered: Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Rejected For Tardiness

Signed, Sealed, Undelivered: Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Rejected For Tardiness

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


A lot of people who voted in this primary season cast votes that were not counted. An NPR analysis finds more than 65,000 absentee ballots have been rejected in primaries so far this year. That's because they arrived too late, and that was often not the voter's fault. Tens of thousands more ballots were rejected due to other problems such as missed or mismatched signatures. Now the November election is approaching. And you will recall that in 2016, tens of thousands of votes were enough to decide a few key states.

NPR's Pam Fessler covers voting, is on the line. Pam, good morning.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And what does your reporting show that's new here?

FESSLER: Well, we've known for actually a long time that thousands of mail-in ballots are rejected every year because, you know, people either miss the deadline or it lacks a signature. But it's actually never been such a big issue as it is probably going to be this year because we expect so many more people to vote by mail because of the pandemic. So we asked states that have already had their primaries how many absentee ballots they rejected because they arrived past Election Day, which is the deadline in most places. And the numbers ranged anywhere from less than 1% to more than 5% of the total.


FESSLER: For example, in June alone, more than 5,000 votes were discarded in Nevada, 6,000 in Virginia, 8,000 in Georgia and 15,000 in Pennsylvania. And those numbers are relatively small. But as you say, you know, it could be crucial in November.

INSKEEP: And this must be frustrating for the individual voter. Do they actually find out that their ballot was rejected?

FESSLER: Yeah, some people can. You can if you go check. And I spoke to several voters who were in this situation, including a woman named Susie Sonneborn (ph) of Montclair, N.J. And she was one of more than 1,100 Montclair voters whose mail-in ballots were rejected in a May local election, mostly because they didn't arrive on time. She says she tried really carefully to follow all the rules. She even went to the post office to make sure her ballot was postmarked by the Election Day deadline. But she told me she wasn't aware that her ballot also had to be received no later than two days after the election.

SUSIE SONNEBORN: Obviously, I think the mail is slower than unusual right now. But it was just really disappointing and surprising that by following the instructions that are printed on the ballot, I was set up for failure.

FESSLER: And Steve, she said it was especially disheartening in this case because the mayoral race was decided by only 195 votes.

INSKEEP: Oh, wow. Is it possible to say if different kinds of voters are more affected by these problems than others?

FESSLER: Yeah. I spoke with Charles Stewart, who is a political scientist at MIT. And he's been working with researchers at Stanford to try and answer exactly that question. And right now, the data is fairly limited. But Stewart says they found that, generally, people who are voting for the very first time are more likely to make mistakes - for obvious reasons. And they're also more likely than - not to have their votes count. And he said the rejection rates also seem to be somewhat higher for younger voters and minorities. Both of these groups tend to favor Democrats. And that's why the political parties have really focused on this issue. And they've taken it to court, and it's the subject of a lot of litigation.

INSKEEP: Pam, we've just got a few seconds, but you mentioned court cases. What effect could they have?

FESSLER: Well, right now, though, a lot of cases are still ongoing. Democrats have filed suit. They wanted most states so that it just has to be postmarked by Election Day, not having to be received by Election Day because they say it's not really the voter's fault in most cases. Republicans don't want the deadlines to change, and that's because they think it'll undermine confidence in the election and maybe increase chances for fraud, although voter fraud is extremely rare.

INSKEEP: Pam, thanks so much.

FESSLER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Pam Fessler.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.