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Politics and Government

Colorado reports nearly 29,000 rejected ballots in the 2020 election, with younger voters the bulk of total

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold certified the 2020 election and said the state would look at ways to lower rejection rate

Mark Songer, a forensic document examiner from Robson Forensic, leads a training for a group of future election judges on signature verification at the Denver Elections Division headquarters Oct. 7, 2020 in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado rejected nearly 29,000 votes in the 2020 election because the ballots didn’t meet requirements in state law.

In the vast majority of the ballots voided, the voter’s signature didn’t match the one in state records, and in other cases, newly registered voters didn’t provide the required identification, according to Colorado Sun analysis of preliminary state data. 

The trends fit the patterns of the 2016 election. The overall rate of rejected ballots — about 0.9% of votes cast — is just a fraction more than the 0.8% mark four years ago, the Sun found.

The ballot issues mostly plagued younger voters and those not affiliated with a major political party. About 65% of the rejected ballots came from voters under age 34 compared with 2% from those age 65 and older, the early data shows. Another 2,000 arrived after polls closed at 7 p.m. on Election Day, the state reported.

MORE: In 2016, more than 24,000 ballots in Colorado didn’t count. Here are 6 graphics that explain why.

The rejection rate for ballots from unaffiliated voters is on pace with 2016 but still exceeded the statewide average. These voters represented about half of all rejected ballots. About a quarter of the total came from Democrats compared with 20% from Republicans.

Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold certified the 2020 election results Tuesday, celebrating the second-in-the-nation turnout rate and calling it a special day that “commemorates the will of the people and the strength of our democracy.” 

This year, the state’s chief elections official hoped to lower the rate of rejected ballots with a new statewide program that allowed voters to correct ballot mistakes on their mobile phones. The text-to-cure program allowed voters to correct signature issues and provide photos of their IDs if their ballot was flagged by officials.

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Griswold said 11,085 voters used the texting program to get their votes counted and called it “highly effective.” 

Griswold took particular notice of the high signature discrepancy rate, which accounted for about 75% of the rejected ballots, and said her office plans to collect more data in coming weeks and “will just continue to improve on our current system.”

Peg Perl, the elections director in Arapahoe County, said the large turnout this year — 78% compared to 74% in 2016 — would have led to even more rejected ballots if not for the texting program. The county tested it in the 2018 election and it was more popular in 2020. About 65% of the voters with ballot problems used the system to “cure” their ballots and get them counted, she said.

“There are different reasons why (rejected ballots) could be a higher number this year because of the perfect storm of a huge presidential election with historic turnout … and some of the challenges we’ve had in other types of administrative areas because of the pandemic,” she said.

Pam Anderson, the executive director of the Colorado county clerk’s association, said the essentially flat rate of rejected ballots suggests the state reached a consistent level. “The fact that it’s stable actually makes me feel pretty good about it,” she said.

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