How you can help prevent your ballot from getting rejected

There are three basic ways Washington voters can prevent their ballots from being rejected in the upcoming Nov. 7 election: mail your ballot early, sign it with the same signature used on your driver’s license and use your legal name.

That’s according to a new study from the University of Washington on the most common reasons ballots are rejected in the state.

The study, which was mandated by the Legislature, is a follow-up to a 2022 report from the state auditor that examined signature mismatches. Researchers will submit their findings to the Washington secretary of state’s office by Nov. 1.

This year’s election doesn’t have a presidential or congressional race on the ballot — one of the study’s researchers, Scott W. Allard, called it an “off-off-year.” The study found that during these election cycles, about half of ballots rejected simply come in too late. A third of rejected ballots have a signature that doesn’t match the voter’s driver license and one in eight rejected ballots don’t have a signature at all.

“A lot of ballots come in late and people may forget to sign their ballot because they rush at the last minute — they realize ‘oh my gosh, it’s Election Day,’” said Allard, a professor at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

The researchers recommend people voting by mail turn in their ballots at least a week before Election Day.

Most Washington voters won’t have to worry about whether their ballot is counted: researchers found 98% to 99% of ballots are processed without incident. Even among ballots that are challenged for signature discrepancies, 60% are fixed and counted before the election is certified, Allard said.

“I think that’s kind of a great success and one that perhaps gives us a lot of confidence in our electoral system, and in our voters,” Allard said.

However, there are still steps the state can take to help with voter education, Allard said. Voters often don’t realize it’s their driver’s license signature being matched to authenticate their ballots. Many people also aren’t aware that they have until the election is certified to fix a challenged ballot.

“Even if you submit your ballot on Election Day and you forgot to sign your envelope, you can still go ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ your ballot even though the election is technically over,” Allard said. “You have almost two weeks after the election.”

Voters can check if their ballot was received and counted through the state’s voter portal. If the ballot was challenged, voters should receive a letter in the mail, phone call, email or text message within 24 hours with directions on how to correct their signature.

The study also found disparities in whose ballots are rejected. There’s evidence voters of color, particularly Hispanic and Asian voters, have higher rates of ballot rejection.

“I think those are often voters who may have surnames that don’t conform to simple first and last English names that our system was really kind of created around,” said Allard, adding that voters should use the name on their driver’s license.

Younger voters are also more likely to run into signature discrepancies. Allard attributed this to less familiarity with the process, evolving signatures as people age and the fact that young people “don’t sign pen to paper very often anymore.”

While Allard called Washington a “national leader” in election administration, he said more work needs to be done to make sure voting is accessible to all in the state. Next year, he hopes to connect with tribal leaders to research the unique challenges their communities can face voting.

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2023 general election information

When are ballots due? 

Ballots must be postmarked or in official drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Nov. 7.

Where can I drop off my ballot? 

Ballots can be left at an official drop box, sent in the mail or delivered in person at a county voting center. Voters who need assistance can also go to a county voting center to vote in person by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Can I still register to vote?
Yes. Voters can register online or by mail up until Oct. 30. Those wishing to register after that day can do so in person at a voting center up until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Who’s on my ballot? 

There are 3,095 races across the state this November. The Washington Office of the Secretary of State and the county auditors compile voter guides for every district. Visit VoteWA.gov for a personalized guide to what’s on your ballot.

When will results be posted? 

Results will vary by county, but most begin posting results around 8:15 p.m. on election night, though votes are tallied as they come in, meaning results can change in the days following the election. County canvassing boards certify the results by Nov. 28, and the Secretary of State certifies the results by Dec. 7. For statewide results and links to county results, visit results.vote.wa.gov.

by Grace Deng, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

  1. My ballot has been rejected the past two voting cycles for signature mismatch – and on the second one, actually took out my drivers license to match it up – there is a way to remedy it, but it is odd that my signature looks exactly like what I sign on the ballot – but has been rejected twice. I guess I just do not know my own signature or how to mimic what I signed on my drivers license…

    This cycle, I am going to make sure that I get my vote in for Mike Rosen soon enough to have it corrected when and if it gets rejected!

  2. Be sure to put your phone number on the outer envelope under your signature, if you haven’t, and it might not hurt to have a witness sign it too with a phone number, if this seems to be an ongoing problem. Just a couple ideas that might help speed the process if they question you. We did this in my deceased wife’s very early stages of dementia that caused her hand to tremble when signing the ballot. I took her off the register when it was obvious she no longer understood what was happening in the voting process.

    1. This is a good idea Clinton. I will do that and get my neighbor to witness also.
      I am sorry about your wife passing. I did not know. I am sorry too that you had to go through the loss of your wife. Dementia is a very difficult way to pass on. I bet you were great with your wife and helping her in every way.

  3. Wow. Did they send it back to you in the mail? That is amazing. I agree I sign things a bit differently depending on my mood ha. Like bill day frustration with phone waits can drive me to an aggressive signature on a check. I liked in person voting myself. I get that many have issues that makes that difficult, but I wish we did have that option. As I recall the workers checked your drivers license with your sign in signature. Seemed pretty efficient to me.

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