More than 23K absentee ballots were rejected in April; election officials expect smaller percentage to have problems in November

With the sharp rise in absentee voting — in April, 61.8% of voters cast their ballots by mail — voters have become hyper-concerned with making sure these ballots are accepted.

In April, according to a report from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, multiple records were set, with the most absentee ballots ever cast in any Wisconsin election.

In 2016, total mail-in ballots in the April election numbered 170,614.

In 2020, that figure shot up to 964,433 ballots. 

While the rate of rejected ballots has remained consistent for years, and has even decreased, the increase in absentee ballots means the sheer number of rejections has gone up.

In April 2016, 5,860 absentee ballots were rejected — 2.5% of them.

In April 2020, 23,169 absentee ballots were rejected. But because so many more people used absentee ballots, that was actually a smaller portion of total ballots — 1.8%.

So far in the November election, over 1 million Wisconsinites have cast absentee ballots. But it won’t be known how many are officially rejected until after Nov 3, since poll workers cannot open and count ballots until Election Day. 

Until then, clerks can notify a voter if there’s a problem with the envelope, like if it’s missing a witness’ signature or address.

As of Tuesday, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, clerks have reported that just 1,506 absentee ballots — out of the 1.45 million already returned — have had problems. Most of those were returned to voters so they could be corrected.

Contacting voters to correct or “cure” their ballots is optional for clerks, so voters can check on the status of their absentee ballots using the tracker on the MyVote site.

More:Five mistakes to avoid if you’re voting by mail in Wisconsin

Why ballots were rejected

According to data provided by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, in April 2020, the No. 1 reason ballots were rejected was because their certification was insufficient. Examples of this include forgetting to write the address of the ballot witness. Over 14,000 ballots were rejected for this reason — or 1.08% of all absentee ballots.

The second highest reason ballots were rejected was because they were postmarked after Election Day — 5,526 ballots were rejected because of this.

Another 2,659 were returned to clerks but after the 4 p.m. April 13 deadline, meaning they got rejected, too.

Other reasons ballots were rejected:

  • 795 ballots were rejected because of a superseding ballot  
  • 98 ballots were rejected because the certificate envelope was compromised
  • 25 were rejected because the voter had passed away
  • 31 were rejected because the voter was ineligible.

Just under 121,000 absentee ballots were never returned.

Over 10,000 were canceled by a clerk, another 10,000 canceled by the voter themselves. Almost 5,000 were returned as undeliverable.

And 301 were refused by those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities when issued by special voting deputies. In 252 cases, a voter was ineligible to receive a ballot.

Election officials say fewer ballots should be rejected in November’s election

The rejection numbers from April 2020 were not out of line with historical averages, Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And he believes the percentages will be smaller for November.

Voters have had more time to receive and return their absentee ballots for this election, Magney said, whereas in April, “there was a crush of activity and confusion right before the election, which may have contributed to some errors.”

And now that there have been more elections with significant numbers of voters casting absentee ballots, it shouldn’t be as unfamiliar a process for voters. 

Magney said the WEC has also done “a lot” of voter education about absentee voting, along with improving the instruction sheet that is included with every ballot so it is more understandable.

All those factors combined, he said, should lead to smaller percentages of rejected absentee ballots.