From Examination to Tabulation: Ballot Pre-processing Policies Explained

In this explainer, Bipartisan Policy Center and National Vote at Home Institute focus on the states that allow election workers to run ballots through scanners before Election Day. This policy provides the most preparation for tabulation, which occurs after polls close on Election Day and before the release of unofficial results. By understanding the benefits of this policy along with other ballot pre-election processes (ranging from verifying signatures to curing ballots), policymakers can expedite the release of unofficial election night returns, mitigating the harmful impacts of election mis- and disinformation.

Ensuring All Votes Count: Reducing Rejected Ballots

“This brief studies trends in mail ballot rejection rates in 2020 compared to previous years and how different factors, including sets of policies and policy changes, the political environment, and voter outreach, may have contributed to these changes in an extraordinary election year. Our main findings include:

  • Mail ballot rejection rates decreased in most states in 2020 compared to 2018, and a number of states saw a consistent drop from 2016 to 2018 to 2020.
  • Certain states that adapted their voting laws to make mail voting more accessible in 2020, particularly in the South, saw especially pronounced changes in rejection rates.
  • In North Carolina, rejection rates vary from county to county. Previous studies of other states’ rejection rates found similar trends.
  • States that implemented mail ballot policies, including ballot curing, increased ease of access when returning mail ballots at boards of elections, early voting sites, drop boxes, and ballot tracking, saw lower rejection rates than those that didn’t, though we caution against assuming a causal relationship.
  • Previous academic and advocacy research suggests that voters of color, young voters, and first-time voters are disproportionately more likely to have their mail ballots rejected.”

Vote by Mail in 2020 and Our Collective Opportunity in 2022

“The 2020 elections presented unique challenges and opportunities that fueled a meteoric rise in the use of vote-by-mail (VBM). Since the 1800s, absentee ballots by mail have been part of our democracy. For most of that history, voters were typically required to provide an excuse for casting an absentee ballot. But in the 1980s, California introduced an expansive policy that opened VBM to all voters. By 2016, 27 states adopted a similar voting policy. By 2020, hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic, 34 states allowed voters to request mail ballots without providing an excuse. Deliver My Vote Education Fund (DMVEF) examined VBM trends in five key states (Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin) from 2016 to 2020 to understand this massive shift in VBM use. Voters of all backgrounds embraced VBM as a safe way to vote during the pandemic, while also realizing the remarkable convenience.”

Vote-by-Mail Policy and the 2020 Presidential Election

A recent study of mail-ballot use and voter participation found that turnout increased an average of 5.6% during the 2020 presidential election in states that mailed a ballot to every registered voter. The effects of mail-ballot delivery were even greater in jurisdictions with historically low mail-ballot usage, boosting turnout by as much as 8%.

The Secret Success of Mailed-out Ballot Access Policies Nationwide

Much has been written about the success of temporary policies states put in place for mailed-out ballot access during the 2020 election due to the pandemic. The resulting use of those ballots, and the percentage of the popular vote they represented was indeed stunning. But an untold story, until now, is how rapidly voters across the country have had their access to mailed-out ballots improved on a permanent policy basis. Here are some of the details that drive the accompanying graphic.