State Watch

Ballots from people of color, men and young voters rejected at higher rates in Washington state, audit says

A review from Washington’s state auditor office released Tuesday indicated that counties in the state were more likely to reject ballots cast by younger voters, men and people of color.

“Researchers suggest possible explanations for higher ballot rejection rates, such as frequent signature changes among young voters or language barriers for particular racial and ethnic groups,” the audit said.

The report, which was requested by state lawmakers, showed that less than 1 percent of votes cast in the 2020 general election were rejected.

In order for auditors to determine race and ethnicity, Scott Frank, who serves as director of performance and IT audit for the office, told The Seattle Times a predictive algorithm from RAND Corporation was used. That method combines demographic data from the census with information such as surnames that have a high likelihood of being associated with particular racial and ethnic groups.

For large data sets, Frank said, “When you combine those two pieces of information, you can make a pretty good prediction.” 

The report cited three main reasons why a voter’s ballot could be rejected, including arriving after the deadline, signatures that are not verifiable or signatures that were missing from the ballot envelope all together. 

The audit focused on the latter two reasons and said despite the higher likelihood for certain racial and ethnic groups to be rejected, it found “few discernible patterns that helped explain differences in rejection rates” and no evidence of bias in a county’s acceptance or rejection of ballots. 

Overall, the review examined a random sample of 7,200 ballots cast with a signature analyzing software and found “that 98.7% of county decisions were appropriate.”

Tags 2020 election mail-in ballots mail-in voting Vote counting voting by mail Washington

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