Voting by Mail? Avoid These Common Pitfalls to Ensure Your Vote Counts

Voting by Mail? Avoid These Common Pitfalls to Ensure Your Vote Counts

Mail-in voting in Los Angeles County is a low-tech election experience that requires you to hunt down a blue or black pen. But it isn't without its pitfalls.

In L.A. County, roughly 17,743 vote-by-mail ballots for the March 2020 primary were rejected — equating to roughly 1.5% of all ballots mailed in, according to a recent report by the California Voter Foundation analyzing data from the Secretary of State.

"While vote-by-mail balloting has advantages, especially during a pandemic, it also shifts the responsibility for correctly casting a ballot from poll workers to voters," the report found.

The foundation found that young voters, those between the ages of 18 and 24, were the smallest voting group to vote by mail but the largest group to have their ballots rejected, according to an examination of 2018 data from three Northern California counties.

And, due to the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election is the first time in California history that voters in all counties will receive a mail-in ballot.

So, with all the ways things can go wrong and three weeks left until the election, dot.LA pulled together advice from voting experts on some ways to make sure they go right.

Make sure you sign the ballot envelope: The signature needs to match the one you provided when you first registered to vote.In March, 2,756 ballots without a voter signature while 267 ballots had signatures that didn't match the one on record. If you registered to vote through the DMV then you can look at your driver's license signature to refresh your memory. If your signature on file doesn't match what you send in, election officials will notify you by mail and ask you to complete and return a signature verification statement. If you forgot to sign your ballot, officials will contact you for an unsigned ballot statement.

Sign up to track your ballot: If there is any problem with your ballot, this should help you to know about it faster. You can sign up here.

Make sure to put your ballot in the return envelope that you've signed before mailing it: It sounds like a given, but 458 mail-in ballots mailed in to election officials had no ballots in the envelope in March. Also, make sure you put only one ballot in an envelope, 70 were rejected for having multiple ballots returned in the same envelope.

Mail your ballot no later than Election Day: It must be postmarked by Election Day to count and be received by election officials no more than 17 days after the election. In March 2020, 13,198 ballots in L.A. County were rejected for not being received on time, by far the largest reason ballots sent in by mail were rejected.

If you make a mistake, read this column: I learned this the hard way, so you don't have to.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation, noted that even if you do make an error on your ballot or use a pink-colored pen or a pencil, election workers spend a good amount of time duplicating ballots by hand if the machine can't read it because you spilled coffee on it, it's torn or you use a light colored pen instead of a dark blue or black one.

One last note, for voters worried about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service amid ongoing financial issues. You can drop off your ballot at more than 400 secure ballot drop boxes throughout L.A. County, just make sure it's an official box by looking it up here. Mail-in ballots can also be dropped off at any voting center in the county.

The Voting Way - CVF 2020 Election Song - YouTube

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Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

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Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake