As States Struggle With Vote-by-Mail, “Many Thousands, If Not Millions” of Ballots Could Go Uncounted in November

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred states to boost vote-by-mail, raising worries that inconsistent policies could lead to problems counting mailed ballots.

Maria Fallon Romo grew up in a family that talked politics at the dinner table. At 53, the North Dakota special education teacher has been an active voter for about 30 years and, until recently, had never experienced a problem casting her ballot. In 2018, she decided to cast a mail-in ballot for the first time, thinking it would be more convenient than her usual in-person vote.

Two years later, Romo learned that her 2018 vote never counted. An election official with no formal criteria to follow decided that Romo’s signature on her absentee ballot envelope didn’t line up with the signature on her absentee ballot application form — and her vote was rejected. “It was very shocking and very disheartening,” she told The Intercept and Type Investigations. “Just like a lot of other Americans, I think when I vote that my vote counts.”

Romo has lived with multiple sclerosis for over 20 years, which can make it difficult for her to write neatly and consistently. North Dakota, like many states, does not require special training on signature matching or instruct officials to consider disability, age, language proficiency, or any number of other factors that could make a person’s signature look different under different circumstances. By law, officials didn’t even have to tell Romo that her vote was rejected. For North Dakota’s June primary, she said, she has saved a screenshot of her signature on her ballot request form, joking that she can practice matching it exactly on her ballot.

About the reporter

Richard Salame

Richard Salame

Richard Salame is a reporter at L'Orient-Le Jour and the former associate editor and Puffin Foundation writing fellow at Type Investigations.