Just under 18,000 ballots cast in the Massachusetts primary were rejected, as a flood of residents voted by mail for the first time, according to figures released by the Secretary of State at the request of the Boston Globe.
In total, over 1.7 million people voted in the primary. Of that, 814,013 arrived by mail according to Secretary of State William Galvin's office - with thousands of people choosing mail-in voting for the first time to take advantage of new election rules enacted due to the pandemic.
Of the 17,872 rejected ballots, roughly half - 8,419 - were tossed because they arrived late. Another 3,124 ballots were missing signatures or were missing the provided mail-in ballot envelope. 1,100 ballots were rejected for "other" reasons.
The 17,872 ballots thrown out from the primary accounted for slightly less than 2 percent of the 1 million-plus cast early or by absentee. More than 1.7 million people voted in total.
Still, with roughly half of voters choosing to cast their ballot by mail amid the ever-present coronavirus pandemic, the raw rejection totals soared beyond that of recent elections, and were largely driven by tardy ballots or in some cases, voter error. -Boston Globe
"It’s a very unfortunate statistic," said attorney Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights. "It indicates that thousands of people were disenfranchised in the 2020 primary, and thousands more are at risk in the general election if we don’t improve our practices."
In late July, the US Postal Service warned Massachusetts and dozens of other states that ballots cast by mail for the November election may arrive late even if sent before the state's legally imposed deadline, according to the Globe. Currently, any ballots postmarked in the state by November 3rd and received within three days - 5 p.m. on November 6, wioll be counted.
"Clearly, we’re emphasizing to people to get it in early," said Galvin, who said he could only speculate if USPS delays were responsible for the late-arriving ballots and called the issue "regrettable."
The total of rejected votes was more than three times the number from the 2018 and 2016 general elections, when turnout bulged to 2.7 and 3.4 million, respectively. About 5,100 absentee ballots were discarded in each of those elections, accounting for 5.8 percent and 3.3 percent of all absentee ballots returned.
That the rejection rate was lower this year when far more people voted absentee was a good sign that “Massachusetts kind of figured it out,” said Charles Stewart III, an MIT political science professor who studies elections.
But those who show up for primaries are typically more seasoned voters, Stewart said, making it difficult to predict how many of those casting ballots in November, potentially for the first time under the state’s newly expanded rules, will fare.
“Problems with voting at this magnitude can be consequential," he said. -Boston Globe
"It wasn't perfect, and no election is perfect," said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, adding "There were some glitches."
"There were a few people that were mailed the wrong ballot. There were a few instances of ballots being lost. But overall, considering the amount of [mail-in] ballots going from a few 1,000 to almost a 1 million, that is a huge change in our election system."
Let's see how Massachusetts fares in the general election, just over a month away.