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Thousands of rejected ballots in Southern New England raise concerns for general election

Thousands of rejected ballots in Southern New England are raising concerns ahead of the general elections. (WJAR)
Thousands of rejected ballots in Southern New England are raising concerns ahead of the general elections. (WJAR)
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Thousands of ballots in Southern New England have been rejected in 2020, a concern for many people who are choosing to vote by mail in November’s general election.

NBC 10 sorted through the numbers.

We discovered Rhode Island election officials rejected a total of 2,991 mail-in ballots in this year's presidential and state primaries.

Here’s a breakdown of those numbers:

  • June 2nd Primary - 2,735 ballots rejected (2.6-percent of total mail ballots)
  • September 8th Primary – 256 ballots rejected (Less than 1-percent of total mail ballots)

You can compare those to the 2016 presidential election when 1,060 absentee ballots were rejected in Rhode Island, but far fewer people voted by mail.

Similar numbers were reported in Massachusetts this year.

According to the Boston Globe, nearly 18,000 ballots were rejected in September’s primary, which is less than 2-percent of total mail-in ballots.

NBC 10 Political Analyst Wendy Schiller says when looking ahead to November, she’s most concerned with the high volume of mail-in ballots.

“I think we have to worry about the processing aspect of absentee ballots of this magnitude. I think Rhode Island is in pretty good shape and pretty well prepared, but across the country people are going to have to deal with millions of ballots when they’ve been dealing with thousands of ballots in the past," she says.

The Rhode Island Board of Elections told us a majority of ballots rejected in Rhode Island this year were either late or had signature issues, problems that we learned are more common than you may think.

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, ballots are primarily rejected for three reasons, no signature, a questionable signature, or a missed deadline. Those errors accounted for over 71-percent of the more than 318,700 ballots rejected nationwide in 2016.

Ballots were also rejected due to the voter passing away, the person voting in person instead of by mail, first-time voters missing the proper identification, and issues in returning the voting materials, for example, an envelope with no ballot inside.

Schiller says that’s why it’s critical to read the instructions before you put your ballot in the mail. “It’s really important that when you are filling out both your application for a ballot and the ballot itself, follow the instructions and really understand that you have to sign in the right place and give all the information. Make sure it’s sealed and signed and send it back,” she said.

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea says the state wants to make sure every vote counts, which is why they’ve added options to this year’s ballots.

“The Board of Elections has added two more fields to the oath envelope for mail ballots, a state driver’s license or a state ID card. I would recommend that voters provide one of those because that’s added security that if they have some questions and those match, they will proceed and count your ballot." she said.

Another option is the last four digits of your social security number. Gorbea said while some may be apprehensive to give out this type of information, it’ll only be used by election officials to verify you’re a registered voter.

It could also come in handy if there’s a question surrounding your ballot, as Rhode Island is one of just 19 states that will notify voters if their signature is missing or incomplete. Voters are then given 7-days to resolve the issue.

You can also spot any problems yourself by tracking your ballot in real time at Vote.RI.Gov., which allows you to verify when your ballot or ballot application was received, accepted, and mailed to you. You can also see whether your ballot is being held for additional information.

Schiller wants to remind everyone that while voting by mail is popular this year, it’s not your only option. “Rhode Island has 20 days of in person voting before election day this year, so if you are concerned about your ballot just know that you can vote in person 20 days before the election.”

For more information on voting in Rhode Island, including deadlines, click here.

For deadlines in Massachusetts, click here.

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