“Jurisdictions are now very sensitive to the reasons for disqualifying absentee ballots,” Dr. Persily said. “When they were processing very few of them, those reasons might not have appeared significant. But now that cavalier enforcement of the rules led to tens of thousands of ballots being disqualified, they’re more likely to provide strict and consistent application of those guidelines.”
Indeed, many election officials are going the extra mile to accommodate voters. In Nashville’s Davidson County, election workers used pink highlighters to underscore often-overlooked signature lines on the roughly 37,000 absentee ballots they have mailed to voters. As of last week, officials had flagged only 11 ballots that lacked proper signatures, said Jeff Roberts, the county elections director.
If the rate of disqualified ballots has unquestionably fallen in some jurisdictions, one leading expert on mail voting, Daniel A. Smith of the University of Florida, offers a completely different explanation as to why.
In Florida, where 1.3 percent of mail ballots were thrown out in 2018, the rejection rate on Monday was a bare 0.3 percent. But “it’s not that we’re having fewer ballots rejected,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s that we’re having a higher rate of ballots being cured” — that is, corrected and made eligible for counting.
That is especially true in battleground states like Florida and Georgia. In both states, armies of workers for political parties, candidates and advocacy groups are pelting voters whose ballots were rejected with telephone calls and emails urging them to fix their mistakes. In Florida, where some 32,000 ballots were rejected in 2018, only 14,072 had been tossed out as of Monday, two-thirds of those because signatures were missing.
“In every county, we’re having massive efforts on the ground” to fix ballot mistakes, Mr. Smith said. “And we have never seen anything like that in any previous election.”