Fight for a Fairer Election by Helping Voters Fix Their Messed-Up Ballots

Voters in 28 states can "cure" their rejected mail-in ballots. Here's how you can volunteer to guide them through that process.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, United States
October 14, 2020, 11:00am
Man filling out a ballot form to vote for an election during 2020
Photo by Jorge Villalba via Getty Images

The 2020 U.S. presidential election is coming up! Really soon, actually! And, as you likely know, a good deal of the voting in this election is going to be conducted over snail mail, thanks to a little thing called COVID-19. While the rules and regulations on when and how to mail in one’s ballot vary by state, one fact that remains universal is that it’s a little too easy to mess up and fill out your ballot wrong. This can look like forgetting to sign everywhere it’s required, or putting down a signature that doesn’t “match” the one the state has on file.

One bit of good news is that voters who live in one of the states that’s allowing people to “cure” their ballots in this election have a little extra leeway. Basically, if a ballot is disqualified, a voter has a window of time in which they can correct their mistake and resubmit the absentee ballot to ensure their vote still counts.

If this is the first time you’re hearing of ballot curing, you’re not alone. The expansion of ballot curing is just one of many novel elements of the 2020 election, which is as important as it is confusing. According to a September report from the Brennan Center for Justice, the opportunity to cure your ballot has been expanded for the November election thanks to a series of lawsuits around the country, with rulings that codified a voter’s right to notification from the state if their mail-in ballot is rejected, and established a timeline in which that ballot must be resubmitted.

Now, in states where ballot rejection data is publicly available, local election offices and non-partisan voter rights groups are enlisting volunteers to help with the curing process. According to Izzy Bronstein, a grassroots organizer with watchdog organization Common Cause who helps run its Election Protection volunteer coalition, volunteers can reach out to voters to let them know that their ballot might need curing, and then walk them through that process.

Experts in the voting rights space say that ballot curing will likely make a significant difference in the election this November. “During primaries earlier this year, approximately 2 percent of all mail-in ballots were rejected. That’s about twice the rate of ballots cast in person—high enough that it could affect the outcome of the election in certain places and in close contests,” Megan Lewis, executive director of the Voting Rights Lab, told VICE. “First-time absentee voters are much more likely to make small mistakes that could lead to their ballots being thrown out. A cure process can help significantly reduce these rejection rates.”

If you’re interested in helping with ballot curing, Lewis said to see if volunteers are needed in the county you live in. “A good first step is to reach out to local election offices to ask if they are looking for volunteers,” she said. “State political parties and local organizations may also have ballot cure teams, but these opportunities will depend on the state.” But even if you vote in one of the 21 states that has no ballot cure process established, Lewis said you should be able to help: “Typically, you do not need to be a state resident to volunteer to phonebank or text.”

Bronstein said volunteering for ballot cure phonebanking typically starts with  a 15-minute individualized training session, and then you’ll be ready to hop on a Zoom call with fellow volunteers, where everyone can pop in and ask questions as needed. She also said the dialer software connecting volunteers with voters who need their ballots cured should be familiar to anyone who’s phonebanked previously. “The difference is the script,” Bronstein said. “The process is just a little bit more complicated than a regular ‘Get Out the Vote!’ script.”

“We don't ever want to tell a voter that their ballot was rejected point-blank, because the data isn't always perfect,” she said. “Instead, we tell voters, ‘The best thing you can do is to track your ballot, most states have a really awesome tracker where you can see where your ballot is along the process.’ We help them check their ballot, and if it’s rejected, it will say that. We'll give them instructions on either how to do an affidavit or how to do some other kind of cure process.”

Given the volunteer turnout she’s seen so far, Bronstein said she is heartened by the way people are showing up to help their fellow voters with ballot curing and beyond. “In 2018, we had around 6,500 folks sign up for Election Protection,” she said. “This year, we’ve had 30,000. Volunteers are being trained every day. Whether it's through a state program, a local program, a national program, they're getting ready and getting prepared.”

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