Georgia officials say reduced ballot rejection rate caused by change to laws

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President Trump is citing a dramatically lower rejection rate for mail-in ballots in Georgia in 2020 compared to 2016 and 2018 as evidence of widespread voter fraud, but state officials say fewer ballots were tossed this year because of changes to election laws, not because of cheating.

The rate of mail-in ballots rejected for errors, such as a missed deadline or use of an incorrect return envelope, plummeted from 6.4% in 2016 to 3.1% in 2018 to 0.6% in this year’s Nov. 3 election, according to state records.

Georgia election officials said changes in their election laws since 2018 account for the lower rate of discarded ballots.

Other battleground states also saw significant declines in rejection rates.

In Nevada, the rejection rate rose from 1.6% in 2016 to 2.05% in 2018 and then dropped to 0.58% in 2020.

In Pennsylvania, the rejection rate for mail-in ballots soared from 0.95% in 2016 to 2.85% in 2018 and then crashed to 0.28% this year, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project, an information source founded by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald.

Not all official state numbers have been published. The projected trend of decreases, however, shows the drop could have changed the outcomes in close races such as in Georgia, where President-elect Joseph R. Biden beat Mr. Trump by about 10,000 votes.

“You would have to think, obviously, fraud could explain it — but the most obvious explanation is very lax enforcement and perhaps motivated by the explosion of mail-in ballots,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice.

Poll observers were kept more at a distance in several major cities in key swing states due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Some witnesses said it made it hard to analyze ballots and envelopes for errors.

Some battleground states did not see a dramatic swing in rejection rates.

In Michigan, the rejection rate was 0.49% in 2016, 0.57% in 2018 and 0.46% in 2020, according to the Michigan secretary of state.

The fluctuation in Georgia’s reject rate convinced the Trump campaign that something was wrong with the count. Mr. Trump slammed the Republican-run state during a 45-minute recorded speech earlier this month.

“One of the most significant indications of widespread fraud is the extraordinarily low rejection rates for mail-in ballots in many key states. These are the states that I had to win. In swing state after swing state, the number of ballots rejected has been dramatically lower than what would have been expected, based on prior experience,” the president said.

“That means years and years of voting in Georgia. Just point 2%: that’s substantially less than 1% of mail-in ballots have been rejected. In other words, almost none have been rejected.”

But Georgia officials said a change in state law after the 2018 elections allowing for ballot curing — giving the voter an opportunity to remedy a balloting error — is what’s really behind the significant decline in the rejection rate.

A spokesperson from the Georgia secretary of state told state lawmakers probing alleged election irregularities at a recent hearing that Georgia voters are now allowed to cure — or fix — flawed mail-in ballots. They can confirm their signatures instead of flatly having ballots tossed and discounted.

That’s not the law everywhere.

In Pennsylvania, some Democratic counties allowed ballot curing while others did not.

The Trump campaign made that part of their legal argument in the courts, saying it amounted to treating Republican and Democratic voters differently and violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Courts have repeatedly rejected that argument.

Wanda Murren, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State, noted the state’s official numbers are not released yet, and the data from the U.S. Election Project is not up to date.

“The Department of State has not released data on mail ballot rejection rates for the Nov. 3 election. This information is typically not available until some weeks after the election, once all ballots have been canvassed by counties,” she said when asked what could cause a significant decline.

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