Younger voters more likely to have ballots rejected, study finds

Photo of an official ballot drop box
Antonio Martin/Staff
Regardless of age group, vote-by-mail ballots are often rejected because voters have returned them too late in the election season, failed to sign the envelope or did not ensure their signature matched that of their voter registration, according to the report.

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A study conducted by the California Voter Foundation found that voters between the ages of 18 and 24 are about three times more likely to have their ballots rejected than older voters.

Within the last decade, on average 1.7% of California ballots returned by mail have been rejected, according to the report, which focused on voters from Sacramento, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In comparison with other age groups, younger individuals make up the smallest portion of California’s vote-by-mail voters, yet they have remained the largest age-based subgroup to have their ballots rejected.

“Casting a vote-by-mail ballot is a popular option, and for some Californians a necessary method of voting,” the report reads. “But more must be done to ensure voters are not disenfranchised without their knowledge and are equitably treated when they cast vote-by-mail ballots in California’s 58 counties.”

Regardless of age group, vote-by-mail ballots are often rejected because voters have returned them too late in the election season, failed to sign the envelope or did not ensure their signature matched that of their voter registration, according to the report.

Miyako Iwata, ASUC Vote Coalition director and former Daily Cal staffer, said these are especially common challenges for younger voters, who are often less acquainted with the United States’ postal system and have less experience with the voting process.

“Young people tend to be less familiar with mailing as we don’t mail as much,” Iwata said. “It’s something we’re actively working to fix both at Berkeley and in general.”

She added that many college students forget to update their registration upon moving, causing their ballots to end up in the wrong location.

While some changes to California law have been enacted in past years to extend the grace period for accepting ballots and expand ballot tracking services, the report also called for a variety of measures to make voting more accessible.

These recommendations include adding additional ballot drop boxes, encouraging early voting, adopting standardized methods for verifying signatures and engaging in outreach to help younger voters with the process.

Some campus students have also been reaching out to their colleagues, encouraging them to vote and assisting them with the process.

Iwata said the ASUC Vote Coalition has been conducting workshops to help “demystify” the voting process, while CalPIRG has made election-related announcements in classes.

She added that there are two locations on campus — Pauley Ballroom and the Lawrence Hall of Science — where students can register to vote and cast their ballots.

“If we had more young people out, we could have a completely different political realm nationally,” Iwata said. “It’s important that people recognize their power.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.