Drawing on her years of military experience, Maureen Heard was careful to follow all the rules when she filled out an absentee ballot in 2016. She read the instructions thoroughly, signed where she was supposed to, put the ballot in its envelope and dropped it off at the clerk’s office in her New Hampshire town. She then left so she could return to a temporary federal work assignment in Washington, D.C. “I have learned over the years, many years in the military of filling out forms, how to fill out forms — and I was very intimidated by the process,” said Heard, who served in the Air Force and was a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to make sure I get it absolutely right.’ And then it didn’t count.” Heard, 57, discovered last year that she was among roughly 319,000 voters across the country whose absentee ballots were rejected during the last presidential election. The reasons varied, ranging from missed deadlines to failure to sign the return envelope. Heard’s ballot was tossed out because her signature did not match the one on file at her local election office.
More people than ever are returning their ballots by mail or dropping them off at a local election location rather than voting in a booth on Election Day. Those developments make it easier to cast ballots and are designed to boost turnout.
The trend also is raising concerns about whether voters can be assured their ballots will count or be notified in time if there is a problem. Voting rights activists want to ensure that voters are given a reasonable chance to fix any problems.