A new study of 2018 mail-in absentee ballot data from the State Board of Elections in North Carolina found ballots mailed-in by Black voters were rejected at more than twice the rate of any other race.
The study, conducted by ProPublica and WRAL News, raises concerns about the fairness of ballot counting and whether systemic racism is influencing elections.
According to the study, Black voters’ ballots made up about 14% of the about 104,000 ballots cast by mail in 2018. However, Black voters’ mail-in ballots saw a 14% rejection rate, which is more than twice the 6.3% rate for all voters statewide and easily the highest of all racial groups.
Black voters in North Carolina weren’t the only ones affected. Across all minority groups, voters were twice as likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected as white voters.
Local elections directors told ProPublica they were unaware of the racial disparities the study found and pointed out that voters still have time to fix the errors when they’re notified or to vote in person. However, 2018 data showed 85% of people who had their mail-in ballots rejected did not find another way to vote.
Even more concerning, is the same appears to be happening in the 2020 Presidential Election. According to Pro Publica, as of Sept. 23, the rejection rate for mail-in ballots submitted by Black voters was about 3%—almost three times as high as white voters, according to state data.
In an election year where more people than ever will be sending their ballots in by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic, the higher rejection rates of mail-in ballots from Black voters could have a significant effect in North Carolina.
Michael Bitzer, a professor of history and political science at Catawba College, told ProPublica there’s no intentional deceit happening. but understands why people believe there may be a conspiracy.
“There is no intentional malfeasance going on to deny someone their right to vote,” Bitzer said. “But with the history that North Carolina has of Jim Crow legislation, of poll taxes, of active voter suppression that this state has experienced firsthand for over 100 years, there is some reliable resentment and issues to be raised about this.”
Election officials told ProPublica they’ve implemented several new measures including required voter notification, streamlined ballot instructions, a pared-down witness requirement, and a new text alert app for tracking ballots, which will help voters navigate the mail-in process and correct any errors.