As thousands in Massachusetts prepare to mail their ballots for the first time, election officials are cautioning against some common mistakes that tripped up voters in the primary.
Nearly 18,000 primary ballots were rejected for reasons like arriving too late, or without a signature or the proper envelope.
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That’s only about 1.7% of all early and absentee votes, though election watchers say the figure isn't insignificant.
And the share of rejected ballots was higher in some communities, reaching around 5% in Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, Brockton and some other cities. That means one in 20 mail-in ballots in those cities was tossed.
"That's disappointing," said Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, a non-partisan group that seeks to increase voter participation. "It's only about 2% of the total ballots, but that's still 2% too high."
Of ballots that were rejected, most were tossed because they came too late — after the 8 p.m. deadline on primary day. Voters will have a little more leeway in the general election; mail-in ballots must be postmarked by election day on Nov. 3, but they can arrive as late as Nov. 6 and still be counted.
The second most common reason why ballots were rejected was failed delivery, meaning the post office returned the ballot to the local election office, or the voter reported not receiving it in time. In some cases, election officials then sent a second ballot.
Others were tossed because they arrived without the accompanying ballot envelope, or because the envelope was not signed. Some mail-in ballots also arrived after someone had already voted in person, perhaps anxious their ballot was delayed in the mail.
In Lowell, some 417 mail-in ballots were rejected, including 220 that came too late, 95 with no signature, and 67 with no envelope.
Interim Election Director Elliott Veloso said he's urging voters to pay attention to the directions that show up with their mail-in ballots.
Voters in Lowell will get those directions in English, Spanish, and Khmer. The city is also planning more outreach on how to fill out and mail the ballot, such as a demonstration video.
"We certainly want every ballot to be counted," Veloso said.
In Medway, seniors are stuffing election envelopes this week for some 5,000 people who requested mail-in ballots — about half of all registered voters in the town.
Town Clerk Maryjane White said she hopes voters don't delay in returning them. Election officials will have time to correct simple mistakes if they surface before election day, she said.
Voters who are worried about delays in the mail can also take advantage of ballot collection boxes popping up outside many town halls.
"As soon as they get the ballot, vote it," White advised residents. "Get it done."