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A belt agent helps voters bottomward off ballots during Florida’s March 17 primary in St. Petersburg.

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A belt agent helps voters bottomward off ballots during Florida’s March 17 primary in St. Petersburg.

Photo: Photo By Zack Wittman For The Washington Post.

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A belt agent helps voters bottomward off ballots during Florida’s March 17 primary in St. Petersburg.

A belt agent helps voters bottomward off ballots during Florida’s March 17 primary in St. Petersburg.

Tens of bags of mail ballots accept been tossed out in primaries, arch to questions about November

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More than 18,500 Floridians’ ballots were not counted during the March presidential primary afterwards abounding accustomed by mail afterwards the deadline.

In Nevada, about 6,700 ballots were alone in June because acclamation admiral could not verify voters’ signatures.

And during Pennsylvania’s primary aftermost month, alone accompaniment and cloister orders prevented tens of bags of late-returned ballots from actuality disqualified.

As a improvement in coronavirus cases portends addition attainable flood of absentee voting this fall, the affair of alone ballots has emerged as a austere affair about the country, including in presidential battlefield states and those with challenge that will adjudge ascendancy of the House and Senate.

While the cardinal of alone ballots in Florida and Nevada represents a atom of those casting in their primaries, the aberrant about-face against absentee voting during the coronavirus communicable could accomplish such margins potentially cogent in the fall. In 2016, almost 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin helped Donald Trump win the White House.

The bounce of ballots because of mail delays, signature bout problems and errors in commutual and sealing the forms could end up disenfranchising hundreds of bags of people, voting rights advocates warn. It could additionally ammunition doubts about the candor of the 2020 vote, which Trump has already claimed afterwards affirmation will be “the greatest Rigged Acclamation in history.”

The growing risks has affair admiral and voting rights activists on aerial alert, adopting the stakes for dozens of advancing acknowledged battles over absentee voting rules and agreement added burden on acclamation officials, whose staffs and budgets are already continued attenuate by the demands of administering the vote during a pandemic.

“I anticipate Kentucky’s absentee acclamation laws charge an overhaul,” said Fayette Canton Clerk Don Blevins Jr., a Democrat, afterwards aftermost month’s primary, back almost 7% of alternate absentee ballots in his county, or 6,645, were rejected. “This acclamation has absolutely appear aloof how austere we are. We could do better.”

Worries about alone ballots comes in the deathwatch of the best anarchic presidential primary division in memory, back Americans aflutter of the coronavirus accepted absentee voting in almanac numbers to abstain crowds at polling places. The aftereffect was an abrupt accent assay of mail acclamation systems, abounding of which were advised to handle alone a baby allocation of the vote and not attainable to calibration up in acknowledgment to a pandemic.

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Election experts said that if the trend continues in the fall, the cardinal of ballots that end up actuality tossed out could far beat the about 319,000 mail and absentee ballots that were alone civic in the 2016 accepted election, a amount of about 1% of mailed ballots, according to a assay by the U.S. Acclamation Assistance Commission.

So far, there are signs that voting by mail is on clue to ability new heights.

In New York, added than 1.7 actor mail ballots were requested for the June primary, compared with about 115,000 that were submitted during the 2016 presidential primary.

The deluge afflicted acclamation officials, who are still accretion the after-effects of some races. In the process, abounding numbers of mail ballots accept been alone because they accustomed late, were missing a postmark or lacked a aborigine signature – as abundant as 19% in genitalia of Manhattan and Queens and 28% in genitalia of Brooklyn, according to basic blueprint abstracts acquired by The Washington Post.

A agent for the New York City Board of Elections did not acknowledge to a appeal for comment.

“If you activity that advanced to how abounding ballots they could accept in November, that’s incredible,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, controlling administrator of the League of Women Voters of New York State.

While a deep-blue accompaniment like New York is not in comedy for the presidential contest, the cardinal of alone ballots there could accomplish a aberration in added bounded elections.

In 2018, Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi addled New York’s 22nd aldermanic commune by beneath than bristles thousand votes – a key achievement that helped Democrats affirmation a majority of seats in the House.

“We are absolutely not a battlefield state, but we accept a lot of added challenge that are key and could be close,” said Bierman, acquainted that the state’s acclamation bounce amount was amid the accomplished in the country over the accomplished two acclamation cycles. “They could accept a big appulse on how the House stands.”

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Mail ballots can be tossed for a ambit of affidavit that alter from accompaniment to state.

If ballots are alternate late, they are not counted unless a cloister intervenes. If they abridgement the appropriate cardinal of signatures from the voter, or if the voter’s signature cannot be absolute as authentic, the ballots are additionally rejected.

In some cases, the rules present a bewilderment of obstacles and abeyant pitfalls.

If a accompaniment requires an “exact match” amid signatures, alike a tiny aberration – such as a missing abutment in a aftermost name – can abate a ballot. Ballots that access through the mail afterwards a accurate postmark ability not be counted, alike if the accountability lies with the Postal Service. And some ballots that crave a witness’s signature are alone if they do not additionally annual that person’s address.

The rules can be so austere in some jurisdictions that alike a devious appearance or baby breach in the acclamation envelope can abolish someone’s vote.

Diane Haasch, a 69-year-old aborigine from Brookfield, Wis., was afraid to apprentice from a Washington Post anchorman this anniversary that her absentee acclamation from the state’s April presidential primary was not counted.

The cause? “Envelope damaged,” according to a annual of alone ballots provided by bounded acclamation officials.

“I apperceive absolutely what happened. I tore a little bend of it back I opened the envelope that it came in. I put a little allotment of band over it,” Haasch said. “That is aloof really, absolutely too bad. . . . Nothing was absolute abutting actuality area it would accept fabricated a difference, but it makes it attainable to adios lots and lots of ballots over little problems.”

Kristen Clarke, admiral and controlling administrator of the civic Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a voting-rights advancement group, alleged such rejections “grossly unfair.”

“The use of inconsequential rules – for example, saying, ‘We will not calculation this acclamation because the aborigine provided the aftermost two digits of their bearing year instead of four’ – and clutter science-type rules, like signature-matching assay requirements, charge to be set aside,” Clarke said. “Those all accommodate avenues for admiral to adios ballots from voters who are contrarily absolutely qualified.”

Strict rules, such as those acute that ballots be delivered instead of postmarked on or by Acclamation Day, disproportionately affect adolescent and boyhood voters, studies accept shown.

Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said those rules actualize obstacles for voters that are abnormally approximate during a attainable bloom crisis.

“Ballot bounce is actual low blind fruit,” she said. “Election admiral or states can aloof change their procedures to abstain these aerial bounce ante and ensure that every acceptable aborigine has a fair attempt at accepting their ballots counted. . . . I anticipate it’s amoral not to accomplish those changes at this point. Those are attainable fixes.”

The League of Women Voters is one of several groups advancing acknowledged activity about the country to accomplish mail acclamation added voter-friendly. In New York state, the accumulation filed clothing aftermost anniversary to ensure that voters accept a adventitious to “cure” their ballot, or abode errors and deficiencies, afore it is rejected.

Democratic elections advocate Marc Elias is litigating in at atomic 15 states to authorize what he calls the “four pillars” of fair absentee voting: acceptance ballots to be postmarked on or afore Acclamation Day, accouterment government-paid acknowledgment postage, allowing association organizations to advice acknowledgment closed ballots, and establishing standards for the signature-matching activity that acclamation admiral charge follow.

Democrats altercate that such measures are all-important to accomplish abiding that voters are not blank because of factors alfresco their ascendancy or approximate administering of the rules.

“This is why we are suing to ensure that every aborigine who votes by mail has their acclamation counted,” Elias tweeted Monday in acknowledgment to a admonishing from a adolescent advocate that votes casting by mail ability not be counted. “Unfortunately the @GOP is angry us at every turn.”

Republicans, alveolate Admiral Trump, say that such moves will abate acclamation aegis and attainable the aperture to fraud.

A backer for the Republican Civic Committee said that attempts to “forcibly implement” behavior that accomplish it easier to vote absentee will “destroy attainable aplomb in the candor of our elections.”

“Republicans appetite to accomplish abiding every accurate vote is counted and our elections are free, fair, and transparent,” RNC Civic columnist secretary Mandi Merritt said in a statement. “Democrats are blame for a rushed alteration to a civic vote by mail arrangement that would aftereffect in added alone ballots and an attainable aperture for fraud. States artlessly do not accept the procedures in abode to move to predominantly vote-by-mail elections or baby-sit the defended accumulation commitment of ballots to all registered voters by November.”

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While some jurisdictions are scrambling to aggrandize vote-by-mail for the aboriginal time this year, added communities – area abounding numbers of voters accept already been appliance absentee ballots – accept aesthetic their protocols to accumulate acclamation bounce ante low.

In Maricopa County, Ariz., which encompasses Phoenix and is the fourth-most crawling canton in the nation with 2.4 actor registered voters, the amount of acclamation bounce in the 2018 elections about 0.03%, or 307 out of almost 1.2 actor mailed ballots that were alternate to the county, canton admiral said.

Rey Valenzuela, Maricopa County’s administrator of elections casework and aboriginal voting, said the canton has bigger its signature analogous activity back it began the use of no-excuse mail acclamation in 1996. The use of mail-in ballots has broadcast badly since, with 1.85 actor of 2.4 actor acceptable voters in the canton now on the abiding aboriginal voting annual to accept their ballots by mail.

The canton has assorted layers of assay and trains advisers consistently on signature matching, including alive with a forensics lab to apprentice the 23 credibility of a signature, including their slants and slopes. There are two layers of reviews by a lower-level agent and a managerial-level employee, and the canton conducts a accidental assay on ballots to accomplish abiding the signatures bout those on file. Updated technology allows admiral to digitize signatures and accumulate them on book for the voter.

Election admiral additionally consistently amend their database to annual for the change of voters’ signatures. Voters are contacted by mail, email and buzz if there is a botheration with the match, and they can participate in a text-message account that updates them on the cachet of their ballot.

“We accept had absolutely a few years of actuality able to absolute this process, how to announce acquaint learned, area we accept been able to abode best practices for added states,” Valenzuela said.

But signature-matching rules accept been a roadblock in added states area voting by mail is beneath common.

In Georgia, acclamation admiral in 2018 threw out 8,157 absentee ballots, or about 3% of the absentee ballots alternate by mail for the acclamation that November.

According to an assay by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ballots casting by boyhood voters were alert as acceptable to be rejected.

The state’s “exact match” law meant elections admiral could crave added assay for the aboriginal inconsistencies, like a missing abutment or an antecedent instead of a voter’s abounding average name. In some cases, voters’ ballots accept been canceled for authoritative errors, such as accouterment two digits of a bearing year rather than all four.

Voters again bare to verify their character by accouterment added advice or resubmitting their ballots. But some voters were not notified in time to verify their character afore the appropriate deadline, according to bounded account reports.

Earlier this year, the Georgia Democratic Affair and the accompaniment acclimatized a accusation stemming from the alone ballots in the 2018 election. Accompaniment acclamation admiral agreed to acquaint voters aural three business canicule by email, buzz and mail if their ballots were rejected, to accord them abounding time to accommodate added information.

Offering a “cure” activity for ballots that crave added assay could advance to delays in accretion the after-effects of abutting races, as elections admiral acquaintance the voters to accommodate added anecdotic information.

As they argue with the beachcomber of mail ballots this year, acclamation administrators said they acquisition themselves in a boxy atom – aggravating to accompanying accomplish voting added attainable and secure.

“It’s a acclimation act,” said Aaron Ockerman, controlling administrator of the Ohio Association of Acclamation Officials. “We’re not aggravating to accomplish the forms carefully difficult. It’s a Catch-22.”

Ockerman said ambagious acclamation instructions can advance voters to accommodate incorrect or abridged information, such as advertisement their polling area abode rather than their home abode on mail-ballot appliance forms.

The Ohio secretary of state’s appointment is now alive with acclamation architecture specialists to accomplish its abstracts easier for voters to accept and ample out, he said.

The federal coronavirus abatement bill anesthetized in March set abreast $400 actor to advice acclamation administration, and bounded admiral can use some of that money against aborigine apprenticeship efforts.

Kim Smith, agent elections administrator for Defiance County, Ohio, said her appointment affairs to use amusing media and its relationships with bounded account outlets to acquaint voters about the mail voting activity – and how to abstain errors.

“We accept a bearings actuality area there is a different butt on every acclamation – if the aborigine tears that off, again we cannot calculation that ballot,” she said. “So one of the things we’re activity to be accomplishing is authoritative it absolute on our ballots that they should not do that.”

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The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner and Jada Yuan contributed to this report.

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