Auditors discovered that the votes of Black people in Washington State were rejected four times more often than the votes of white residents in the state’s 2020 election, out of thousands of mail-in ballots that were rejected.
The rejections, which were all based on erroneous signatures, resulted in one out of every 40 mail-in ballots from Black people being invalidated – a figure that has already sparked controversy in the national debate over voter access and secure balloting. Washington, a state with extensive experience with mail-in voting, discovered that rejection rates were much higher for Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander voters than for other groups.
There were no signs that ballots cast by Black or other minority voters were intentionally singled out by poll workers, or that any ballots were deliberately falsified, according to state officials; the rejections were the result of signatures that were either missing or did not match those on file, which officials speculated could be the result of voter inexperience, language difficulties, or other factors.
“It’s not acceptable, to put it bluntly,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy, a Democrat, whose office was in charge of the investigation. She asked election authorities to take action to address the gaps in voting outcomes.
Other states, including as Georgia and Florida, have performed mail-ballot study in recent years, and the results in Washington State are consistent with those of those other states. However, they are critical in a state like Washington, which, after Oregon, became the second state to embrace all-mail voting in 2011, making them very important. Since 1991, voters have had the option of casting their ballots by mail in all statewide elections.
Turnout in states with all-mail voting has consistently been among the highest in the country, and it is often cited as a crucial factor in drawing voters who would otherwise be unable to vote due to obstacles such as job, child care, or transportation difficulties. Since the outbreak, it has become an increasingly popular alternative, with 43 percent of people throughout the nation opting to vote by mail in the next 2020 presidential election.
The Republican Party has enacted legislation in recent months to restrict mail voting, citing fears that votes sent via the mail are more prone to fraud, intimidation, and loss during the postal delivery process. President Donald J. Trump made the bogus allegation that mail-in votes would be rigged because ballots would be produced in other nations and children would plunder mailboxes. As a result of the bar codes, tracking, and data-verification systems that were implemented before and after the election in Washington and other states that employ all-mail voting, there has been minimal evidence of voter fraud in those states.
Eight states currently send every voter a mail-in ballot as a matter of course, despite the fact that several of them continue to maintain in-person polling locations. Some states have made it possible to vote by mail in county and municipal elections. Voters who are unable to attend the polls on Election Day may cast an absentee ballot in any state that allows for such an option.
In the 2020 general election, auditors discovered roughly 29,000 votes that were rejected due to different signature irregularities — either the signature was absent or it did not match what was on file — that were discovered. The state scrutinised thousands of approved and rejected signatures more thoroughly in search of evidence of bias. However, the auditors mainly agreed with the conclusions made by county election workers and found nothing in the manner the ballots were assessed that might explain the gap in results.
Men, younger voters, and voters with less voting experience, regardless of race or ethnicity, were among the other categories with greater rejection percentages. The audit also discovered that rejection rates varied by county, with the auditors speculating that the variation may be due to various degrees of strictness in matching signatures.
Auditors speculated that young voters who regularly vary their signatures and linguistic problems for particular racial and ethnic groups might potentially be contributing factors to some of the rejected ballots.
Ms. McCarthy remembered that her own ballot had previously been rejected due to a mismatched signature, with one signature being a truncated form of her first name and the other containing her full name plus a middle initial, both of which were spelled incorrectly.
Election officials are required to inform voters in order to provide them with a chance to address anomalies in their ballots. The audit focused on votes that did not result in a decision.
Two advocacy organisations filed a lawsuit against a few counties in Washington State last year, saying that Latino voters and other ethnic minorities were being discriminated against as a result of a disproportionately high percentage of ballot rejections from voters with Latino names. During the last election, a Latino judge who was assigned to the case recused himself, citing the fact that his own ballot signature had been first denied.
Mail-in voting remains a staunch supporter of Ms. McCarthy, the state auditor, who said that the audit, which revealed the inequalities, was an effort to continue improving the voting system.
The use of personal identification numbers instead of signatures to minimise mismatch difficulties, according to Robert Stein, a Rice University political science professor who specialises in voting and elections, has been examined by certain scholars. In his opinion, the root of the issue was most likely novice voters who made errors on their votes, as he said.