Determinants of Rejected Mail Ballots in Georgia’s 2018 General Election

Published date01 March 2022
Date01 March 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 75(1) 231 –243
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912921993537
Well before the general public first heard of COVID-19,
an increasing number of voters across the American
states were casting ballots by mail (Mann 2014; Shino
and Smith 2020; U.S. Election Assistance Commission
2017). Mail-in voting differs from in-person voting in
several respects. In contrast to casting a ballot in person,
where individuals verify their voter eligibility in real
time with election officials prior to casting their ballot,
mail-in voters have their eligibility evaluated remotely
by election administrators after they cast their ballot. As
such, many voters casting a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot
have little recourse if there is a problem with their ballot
return envelope (BRE) or if their ballot is received late
by election officials. Given the recent shift across
American states to mail-in voting in response to the
coronavirus pandemic, we are interested in whether
inequities exist among voters who have their mail bal-
lots rejected, either due to lateness or mistakes/omissions
on the BRE.
Challenges associated with mail-in voting, particu-
larly questions concerning administrative rules governing
the evaluation of BREs, were on full display during
Georgia’s November 2018 election. The state received
national attention for the rejection of what Georgia refers
to as Absentee by Mail ballots after high numbers of bal-
lots were rejected in Gwinnett County, an Atlanta-metro
county with a growing population of racial and ethnic
minority voters. Then, in the midst of the coronavirus
pandemic, Georgia’s Secretary of State opted to mail
every active registered voter a mail ballot application in
the state’s June 2020 primary.1 Because there is a strong
likelihood that mail-in ballots will continue to increase as
an alternative to in-person voting due to health concerns
from COVID-19, it is critical to understand the extent to
which there might be systematic discrepancies in whose
ballots are more or less likely to be counted.
With this backdrop in mind, we assess the challenges
associated with the counting of VBM ballots. The main
question we address in this study is whether voters of
different age and race/ethnicity, as well as recently reg-
istered voters, who choose to vote absentee, have their
BREs rejected at different rates than other voters. We
begin by developing a set of theoretical expectations
for whether certain groups of voters are more likely to
cast a ballot that is subsequently rejected, and then test
these expectations using statewide voter file data and
993537PRQXXX10.1177/1065912921993537Political Research QuarterlyShino et al.
1University of North Florida, Jacksonville, USA
2Connecticut College, New London, USA
3University of Florida, Gainesville, USA
Corresponding Author:
Enrijeta Shino, University of North Florida, 1 UNF Drive, Jacksonville,
FL 32224, USA.
Determinants of Rejected Mail Ballots in
Georgia’s 2018 General Election
Enrijeta Shino1, Mara Suttmann-Lea2,
and Daniel A. Smith3
Because of the COVID-19 threat to in-person voting in the November 2020 election, state and local election
officials have pivoted to mail-in voting as a potential solution. This method of voting—while safe from a public health
standpoint—comes with its own set of problems, as increased use of mail voting risks amplifying existing discrepancies
in rejected mail ballots. While some mail ballot rejections are to be expected, a lack of uniformity in whose ballots
get rejected among subgroups of voters—whether for mistakes on a ballot return envelope (BRE) or lateness—raise
concerns about equal representation. We draw on official statewide voter file and mail-in ballot data from the 2018
midterm election in Georgia, a state that until the pandemic did not have widespread use of mail voting, to test
whether some voters are more likely to cast a mail ballot that does not count. Most importantly, we distinguish
between ballots rejected for lateness and those rejected for a mistake on the return envelope. We find that newly
registered, young, and minority voters have higher rejection rates compared with their counterparts.
vote-by-mail, ballot rejection, elections, voting, election administration

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