(COURIER illustration / Denzel Boyd)
(COURIER illustration / Denzel Boyd)

In elections, 1% of rejected mail-in ballots can equal up to thousands of votes. Minimizing mistakes on your mail-in ballot could make a significant impact on the presidential race.

Voting by mail is nothing new. In fact, it dates all the way back to the Civil War, but with the coronavirus pandemic and looming public health concerns about in-person voting, there has been an increased interest in absentee voting.

While voting by mail is a time-tested form of participation, it requires knowing what steps must be taken to ensure your vote is counted. Here are some of the most common reasons a mail-in ballot might get rejected and how to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Can my mail-in ballot or absentee ballot be rejected?

Yes, your mail-in ballot can be rejected. While most mail-in ballots are accepted, specific requirements must be met to ensure your vote is counted.

How many ballots are rejected in any given election?

The number of rejected mail-in ballots varies from election to election, but typically the percentage of rejected ballots falls somewhere in the 1% to 2% range or below. According to CBS News and the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, the primary election in five battleground states showed a range of just under 1% to nearly 2% of ballots were rejected.

RELATED: Answered: Your Most Frequent Questions About Voting in Person

If the number is so small, why should I be concerned?

While the percentage is small, even just 1% of ballots finding their way into the rejection pile adds up to thousands of votes. Considering Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes, and keeping in mind that more people will likely vote by mail this year, it becomes clear that minimizing mistakes on mail-in ballots could have a huge impact on the presidential race. And that’s to say nothing of local and state races, which are decided by even fewer voters.

How can you correct a mistake on your ballot?

Each state allows some way to correct a mistake on a ballot, most typically before it has been mailed in. Once the ballot has been mailed, it will be more difficult to correct a mistake, so it is crucial that you carefully read the instructions and follow them closely. Policies for correcting a ballot vary from state-to-state and sometimes county-to-county, so make sure to check with your state and local board of elections if you need to make a correction to your ballot.

What are the most common reasons a mail-in ballot would be rejected?

The most common reason a mail-in ballot won’t be counted is that it is turned in late, so make sure you check your state’s requirements.

Other common reasons mail-in ballots get rejected include not signing the envelope, the signatures on the envelope and the ballot not matching, and in some states, the signature not matching the most recent one on file.

RELATED: How to Prepare for In-Person Voting If You Have COVID-19 Anxiety 

What states require additional steps in addition to signing the ballot itself?

Some states require additional steps besides just signing the ballot. Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin require witness signatures. Minnesota and Rhode Island usually require this as well but dropped the requirement for this election due to the pandemic. 

Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma require the envelope to be signed by a public notary. Alabama requires a copy of your ID and signatures either from two witnesses over 18 or a notary. North Carolina requires ballots to be signed by either two witnesses over the age of 18, who provide their addresses, or by a notary.

What if there is an error with my signature—will I be notified?

In 19 states, voters are notified of missing or incomplete signatures, but deadlines still must be met, so voters should read instructions carefully and get their ballot in as soon as possible.  

Will my ballot be rejected if it doesn’t meet my local deadline?

Ballots must meet local deadlines, which vary. Some states require ballots to be received by a certain date, while others require them to be postmarked by a certain date. Some states accept ballots sent in on time but arrived late due to mail delays or other technical difficulties. 

RELATED: What Is an Absentee Ballot and How Do I Get One? Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Mail-In Voting

Will my ballot be rejected if it doesn’t have the proper postage?

No. Some states cover the cost of postage for voters with pre-paid envelopes, while others ask voters to cover the costs. However, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will deliver ballots even if they lack proper postage and will usually bill the appropriate board of elections for the cost.

What can I do if I don’t have postage for my ballot?
If you live in a state that requires you to buy your own postage, you can either chance it and hope it will still be accepted due to USPS policy, or you can play it safe and drop off your ballot at a drop box. Check with your local election office to find out where the drop boxes are located, if they are offered near you.