More people than ever are returning their ballots by mail or dropping them off at a local election location rather than voting in a booth on Election Day.
Those developments make it easier to cast ballots and are designed to boost turnout. The trend also is raising concerns about whether voters can be assured their ballots will count or be notified in time if there is a problem. Voting rights activists want to ensure that voters are given a reasonable chance to fix any problems.
Earlier this month, the ACLU and other groups filed lawsuits in Georgia after an Atlanta-area county reported a comparatively high rate of rejected absentee ballots during the start of early voting. Those actions followed similar lawsuits in New Hampshire and California. Nearly one of every four ballots cast in 2016 came through the mail or was handed in at a drop-off location, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The commission's data show that 99 percent of completed absentee and mailed ballots are eventually counted.
Election officials use signature matching to verify a person's identity, but advocates say many election offices lack training and standards. Matching signatures is particularly fraught because a person's handwriting can change over time and be affected by age or disability.
Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the "Every Vote Counts Act," which requires local election officials to notify voters of mismatched signatures at least eight days before election results become certified. Voters then have several days to resolve the issue. Voters who are notified of a problem can request a new ballot or vote in person, but the law does not provide time after the election to resolve the problems. That potentially affects voters who drop off their ballots on or near Election Day. As concerns grow over rejection of absentee ballots, we discuss how to make sure your vote counts.
With files from the Associated Press
Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for Los Angeles County, California
Neal Kelley, Registrar of Voters for Orange County, California