The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) reported that 560,826 mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2020 presidential election. The Election Administration Commission (EAC) is a federal agency established in 2002 to monitor election administration in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. It also conducts a post-election survey of state election outcomes and procedures.

So more than 500,000 voters took the time to fill out and mail in a mail-in ballot, and it was all for naught.

That is, in one sense, a small number. According to the EAC, 69, 560,318 mail-in ballots were counted, accounting for 98.8 percent of all mail-in ballots received in the November election. Only 0.8% of those received were turned down.

Moreover, despite the fact that the number of 2020 mail-in ballots nearly doubled that of the previous presidential election, the percentage of rejected ballots remained unchanged. However, half a million votes is a large number of people whose votes were not counted.

Even if all of the rejected mail-in votes in each state had been awarded to the losing presidential candidate, the outcome of the presidential election in any state would have been the same.

Even so, those rejected votes could have made a difference in some close state and local elections, so it’s important to look into what went wrong.

The first thing to notice is that the outcomes vary greatly by state.

The average rejection rate for mail-in ballots was 0.8 percent. However, 14 states had a rejection rate of 1.0 percent or higher. Arkansas (6.4 percent), Illinois (1.7 percent), Mississippi (2.3 percent), New Mexico (5.0 percent), New York (3.6 percent), and Oklahoma had the highest rejection rates (1.8 percent). So, three red states and three blue states were in the top six.

The report also identifies the primary reasons for the rejection of some mail-in ballots. Non-matching signatures accounted for 32.8 percent of the total; 13.5 percent were rejected because the voter had previously voted in person; 12.1 percent were not received by the specified date, and another 12.1 percent did not include a signature; and 5.6 percent did not include a required witness signature.

Other reasons included: “the voter was not eligible to vote in the jurisdiction, the ballot was missing an important document (such as an affidavit or certification), the document was incomplete or insufficient, the ballot contained identifying marks, the ballot was missing a secrecy envelope or was outside of the secrecy envelope.”

Even those who did everything correctly and mailed their ballots on time may have been hampered by unintended post-office errors, such as missing postmarks and late delivery. Those rejected ballots could have made a difference in some close elections. In the race for New York’s 22nd Congressional District, for example, the Republican candidate was finally certified the winner by 109 votes on Feb. 8 – more than three months after the election.

A number of mail-in votes were challenged in court, including whether the voter voted in the correct precinct, how the ballot was filled out, and where it was dropped off. While the Republican eventually won, the vote count shifted back and forth over the course of three months.

New York had 66,746 rejected mail-in votes, accounting for 3.6 percent of the state’s total. Would the result have been different if some of the mail-in voters had been more cautious?

The point is, for those who have the option (some states have all-mail voting), voting in person, whether during early voting or on Election Day, is the safest way to ensure your vote is counted. There are poll watchers present to ensure that voters are registered to vote in that district and that the voting process is completed successfully.

Voting by mail is an important option for those who are unable to vote in person at the polls, but it is the second-best option.

Vote in person if you don’t want to waste time mailing in your ballot.