Absentee ballots of voters of color being rejected at higher rates in Virginia

(AP photo/Andrew Harnik)

By Carolyn Fiddler

November 2, 2023

A recent analysis performed by the Democratic Party of Virginia’s voter protection effort revealed that a disproportionate number of absentee ballots cast by voters of color are being rejected statewide, with some of the highest disparities occurring in areas near Richmond and Hampton Roads, which are home to highly competitive General Assembly races this year.

Mail ballot data shared with The Dogwood found that African American voters’ ballots are being rejected at more than twice the rate of those of white voters. 

As of Oct. 27, 5.2% of African American voters’ absentee ballots have been rejected statewide, while only 2.5% of ballots cast by white voters have been rejected.

Other non-white voters are also having their ballots rejected at a disproportionate rate; 3.4% of Latino voters’ absentee ballots are being rejected, and 3.2% of AAPI voters’ absentee ballots are being rejected. 

In certain localities, the impact of absentee rejections on African American voters is even greater. The rejection rate in Henrico County is 6.6% among African American voters and just 3.0% among white voters. In Newport News, 6.0% of African American voters’ ballots have been rejected, compared with just 3.2% of those cast by white voters.

“Black Virginians’ ballots are being rejected at twice the rate of those of white voters. This is unacceptable, and raises the stakes for election officials to get this right. Every Virginian has a constitutional right to vote and have that ballot counted,” said Aaron Mukerjee, voter protection director for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “We cannot allow barriers to undermine the fundamental right to vote for communities of color.”

The Youngkin administration’s Department of Elections – which is led by longtime Republican political operative Susan Beals – did not respond to a request for comment on these racial disparities.

This year’s absentee ballot rejection rate among all voters appears shockingly high compared to previous elections. An MIT study of Virginia absentee ballots cast in the 2020 election found that just .64% were rejected that year. So far in 2023, 2.92% of all voters’ absentee ballots have been rejected statewide.

However, the 2020 data reflects the final tally of rejected ballots, after most voters had the opportunity to fix their ballot errors via a process known as “curing.”

Absentee ballots returned via mail may be rejected if the voter information on the envelope containing the actual ballot is missing any of the following:

  • The voter’s last name;
  • The voter’s house number, street name, or rural route address;
  • Either the voter’s city or zip code;
  • The voter’s signature
  • The voter’s birth year; or
  • The last four digits of the voter’s social security number.

Many voters in the 2023 elections will also have the opportunity to “cure” their ballots, which is the process by which voters are notified that their ballot envelope is missing some of the required information and can submit it so that their absentee ballot can be tallied. Voters have until noon on Monday, Nov. 13, to cure their ballot.

If absentee ballots received by general registrars by this Friday, Nov. 3, are missing any of the required identification data, registrars must notify the voter within three days. If an absentee ballot is received after this date (but before the statewide voting deadline of 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7) needs curing, state law doesn’t require registrars to notify that voter.

Political parties typically also engage in the curing process to help ensure all valid ballots are counted.

This year’s racially disproportionate ballot rejection rate news comes on the heels of revelations that Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Department of Elections illegally disenfranchised almost 3,400 voters – and possibly even more.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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