“How likely is it that your mail-in ballot won’t get counted? It’s riskier than voting in person.”

Charles Stewart at the Monkey Cage:

In an article forthcoming in the Harvard Data Science Review, I have worked to quantify how much riskier it is for someone to vote by mail than in person. Depending on the state in which a citizen is voting, the increased risk of having your vote lost — meaning, not counted in the election — ranges from 3.5 percent to 4.9 percent.

“Lost votes” is a term coined by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP) in its 2001 report “Voting: What Is/What Could Be.” Here’s what it means. Suppose a voter wakes up on Election Day, fully intending to vote, and does everything required to do so. If the intention is thwarted, that is a lost vote. For instance, she might arrive at the polls at 6 p.m. and finds the line is so long that she leaves and can’t return to cast a ballot by 7 p.m. when the polls close.

If she intends to vote by mail, here’s what might go wrong. In states where a voter must apply for a mail ballot, the ballot application could get lost in the mail; the local election office could lose the application or deny it; the ballot might not make it back to the voter, for instance, getting lost in the mail; and the marked ballot might not make it from the voter back to the local election office. Even if the ballot arrives, it could be rejected because it arrived late or lacked a signature — the two most common reasons for rejection. Finally, the ballot could have an error that she could have caught had she voted in person.

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