Trump Misinformation on Georgia Ballot Rejections

The percentage of mail-in ballots rejected in Georgia due to signature issues this year was about the same as in the 2016 and 2018 general elections.

Nevertheless, a tweet from President Donald Trump wrongly compared the number of ballots rejected for signature issues in this election to the number of ballots rejected in past elections for all reasons (usually for being received too late) to baselessly suggest something nefarious is afoot.

Georgia hasn’t released data on the total number of mail-in ballots rejected; it has only released the number of mail-in ballots rejected because of signature issues (missing or mismatched signatures). And it is about the same percentage as in the 2018 midterm and only slightly lower than in the 2016 presidential election.

In a press release issued on Nov. 18, the Georgia Secretary of State’s office reported that “2,011 absentee ballots were rejected in the November 2020 election for missing or non-matching signatures out of 1,322,529 absentee ballots cast.” That’s a nearly 350% increase from the 454 mail-in ballots rejected in 2018 due to signature issues, but in that election there were far fewer mail-in ballots cast than this year.

When considered as a percentage of mail-in ballots cast, the rejection rate for signature issues was nearly identical in 2020 (0.15%) to what it was in 2018 (0.16%).

In a press conference on Nov. 17, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, said the rejection percentage for signature issues was about the same in the 2016 election as well — with about 580 ballots with missing in mismatched signatures out of 246,000 mail-in ballots cast that year. That come to a rejection rate that year of about 0.24%.

“So this is pretty consistent on this,” said Sterling, a Republican.

Trump is conflating data when he compares mail-in ballot rejection rates for all reasons to the relatively low rejection rate due only to signature issues.

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a total of about 3.1% mail-in ballots were rejected in Georgia in 2018 (see Table 2); and about 6.4% were rejected in 2016 (see Table 2). Most ballots are rejected because they arrive late, and rejections for signature issues are just a fraction of the overall rejection totals.

Such a comparison is “apples to oranges,” Sterling said in the press conference two days before Trump sent his tweet.

Sterling, Nov. 17: One of the numbers you’re seeing out there is that a 3% rejection rate versus this 0.5% rejection rate, but they’re comparing it to apples to oranges. That is including [all rejected] ballots. The biggest chunk of ballots are rejected or counted as rejected showed up after the 7:00 PM deadline. That is where the majority of rejections come from. But for signature matches always run around 0.15 to 0.2%. That is the normal thing we’ve seen in Georgia for years and we also have a new situation now where Republicans and Democrats alike get these lists of people who have absentee ballots to cure. They send teams around to help them cure their ballots. We saw a lot of that, especially in Fulton, because there was concerns that just suddenly showed up, but they have the photo ID, they have photocopies of the photo IDs, they matched up, so we saw a lot of that curing occurring.

Compared to 2018, there was also a surge in mail-in ballots during the June 9 presidential primary this year, due to the coronavirus. The percent of mail-in ballot rejections — for any reason — declined sharply to about 1%, according to data from 122 of 159 Georgia counties, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated. Nearly three quarters of the ballots were rejected because they arrived after the Election Day deadline.

In the 2020 primary, there were 3,266 rejections for missing or invalid signatures, out of 1.15 million absentee ballots cast, according to a Facebook post by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. That’s a rejection rate of 0.28%. That’s a higher rate of rejection for signature issues than in the recent general election.

According to Raffensperger, “The number of rejections probably went down from the primary because both parties had teams of people finding people who needed to cure their absentee ballots in the general but not the primary.”

Bogus ‘Consent Decree’ Claim

Trump went on to further confuse the issue by wrongly suggesting the reason for the low number of rejections this year is due to Georgia election officials not checking signatures. Trump has repeatedly, and wrongly, claimed that a consent decree entered into last year prevents signature-matching.


Georgia election officials actually check signatures twice, once when a voter requests a mail-in ballot, and then again when the ballot is returned. But once the signature is verified on the ballot’s outer envelope, the ballot itself is separated for counting. This protects voter privacy. So signature checks are not part of the hand recount.

“Let’s address this disinformation about signature match,” Raffensperger wrote on Facebook on Nov. 15. “We strengthened signature match. We helped train election officials on GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] signature match — which is confirmed twice before a ballot is ever cast.”

According to a state law passed last year, election officials must “promptly notify” voters about a ballot rejection due to an issue with the signature, allowing them to “cure” their ballot by casting a provisional ballot — along with identification information — within three days of the polls closing on Election Day.

As for the consent decree Trump mentioned, that refers to a settlement agreement in federal court reached in March that was crafted by Raffensperger to settle a lawsuit brought by Democrats over absentee ballots rejected in the 2018 general election. According to the consent decree, voters must be contacted the next business day — by phone or email — if their absentee ballot is rejected due to a signature issue.

“The State of Georgia entered a consent decree that essentially did one thing and one thing only … instead of giving three days to inform a voter there was an issue with their ballot, [it] is down to 24 hours when you’re within 11 days of the election,” Sterling said in his Nov. 17 press conference. “That is the one and only thing that that consent order addressed in any real way.”

Raffensperger contends that agreement had little impact on the presidential election.

“Takeaway is that rejection rate from 2018 to 2020 is exact same even after ballots with signature [issues] were cured,” Raffensperger wrote on Facebook on Nov. 16. “So, the idea that some settlement agreement that we entered into changed how counties were doing this is basically nonsense.”

On Nov. 19, Raffensperger announced that a risk limiting audit of the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia “upheld and reaffirmed the original outcome produced by the machine tally of votes cast” and that the audit “confirmed that the original machine count accurately portrayed the winner of the election” — President-elect Joe Biden.

The audit uncovered two instances in which counties found uncounted ballots — in Fayette County (providing a net gain of about 400 votes for Trump) and in Floyd County (netting Trump another roughly 800 votes). But with Biden leading by about 14,000 votes, those uncounted votes did not put much of a dent in Biden’s lead.

“Georgia’s first statewide audit successfully confirmed the winner of the chosen contest and should give voters increased confidence in the results,” said Ben Adida, executive director of VotingWorks said in the secretary of state’s press release. “We were proud to work with Georgia on this historic audit. The difference between the reported results and the full manual tally is well within the expected error rate of hand-counting ballots, and the audit was a success.”

Fox News and the Associated Press called the state for Biden after the hand recount audit of the vote.

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