Are ballot rejection rates going up in Mason County? Data says no.

Vote sticker icons stacked on top of each other. (Credit: Pixabay)
Vote sticker icons stacked on top of each other. (Credit: Pixabay)



Data shows that ballot rejection rates in Mason County have stayed below 1% over a 10 year period. (Credit: Lauren Gallup / NWPB)

Data shows that ballot rejection rates in Mason County have stayed below 1% over a 10 year period. (Credit: Lauren Gallup / NWPB)

A few months from now, people across Washington state will vote in this year’s general election. Most will vote by mail, with the ballot mailed to them from their county auditor.

Voters will fill out their ballots, sign the envelopes and drop them off in a ballot box or send them in the post, where a team of election workers will accept those ballots and send them over to a machine to be counted. 

But every once in a while, one of those ballots will get rejected. 

Ballot rejections are serious. If a voter doesn’t remedy the reason why their ballot was rejected, their vote won’t be counted. 

So, when NWPB got a tip about ballot rejection rates rising in Mason County, we wanted to find out more. 

Data shows ballot rejection rates are not increasing in Mason County for primary or general  elections.

Year over year, rejection rates there tend to hover at or below the state’s average ballot rejection rate of 1%. That’s according to Scott Allard, who is a faculty member at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.

Northwest Public Broadcasting reached out to Allard’s team for help taking a look at ballot rejection rates in the county over the past 10 years of primary and general elections. The data compiled from Allard’s team comes from the Washington Secretary of State’s Office. 

The nature of the election can impact rejection rates, Allard said. With special elections in off years, there is consistently lower turnout. There can be higher ballot rejection rates with these elections, as people might not realize they’re happening, he said. Voters may also send their ballots in late, or hurriedly get them in the mail and forget to sign them.

For more contentious elections, such as congressional or presidential races, Allard said higher turnout rates can mean higher rejection rates. Some other issues that could arise include: first-time voters that may be unfamiliar with the system, and people who haven’t voted for a while that might not be abreast to changes in small things, like envelope design. They might also sign with a different signature than what they used when they registered to vote. 

“We do find that younger voters are much more likely to have their ballots rejected than older voters,” Allard said. His team has a couple of hypotheses on why that is, one being that younger people are just less accustomed to using their signature. It’s also more common that voters of color get their ballots rejected, according to the research by Allard’s team.

KNKX Public Radio reported on the previous study by Allard’s team with that finding. 

State legislators passed Senate Bill 5890 this year, which aims to reduce ballot rejections across the state. That law will be implemented in June and county election workers will receive training at the Washington State Association of County Auditors Elections Conference.

Allard finds that most voters are trying to do everything right, but mistakes happen. He said he thinks there’s things that could be done at the county and state level to improve ballot acceptance rates.

“Generally in most elections, about 99% of ballots cast are counted and are accepted,” Allard said. 

The state plans to convene a working group on ballot envelope design. This might sound like a small thing, but making the envelope user-friendly can really help voters get it right, Allard said. Right now, envelopes vary quite a bit between counties. 

Allard said he would also like to see a reminder for voters to sign their ballots right on drop boxes, as a final nudge to get it right the first time. 

Editor’s note: Why are we looking into this? We got a tip from a reader about ballot rejection rates in Mason County, saying the rates have gone up in recent years. Northwest Public Broadcasting looked into whether that is true. We reached back out to the reader to tell them what we found, but as of this publication, we did not receive a response. 

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