Wonky Wednesday:  Absentee Ballots in the 2021 General Election

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday. Every week I take a write a column dedicated to election and registration data in Onondaga County and New York State. Absentee and mail in balloting has become needlessly controversial over the last two elections due to the rhetoric of the former President and his supporters. Furthermore in New York our arcane rules have put an unusual spotlight on mail in ballots as they were sequestered and not counted until 2 weeks after Election Day. Those rules will change for 2022. In a blow to mail-in ballot supporters the proposition for no-excuse balloting failed at the 2021 general election. Whether this dampers the growth we have seen in mail-in balloting in the future of New York will be interesting to watch in 2022 and beyond. This week I investigate the absentee, affidavit, and court order ballot data from the 2021 general election.

Democrats continue to dominate Absentee voting in 2021 as they did in 2020. The 2946 ballots cast by Democrats accounted for nearly 49% of all ballots while the GOP (1843) accounted for 30.6%. Like with Early Voting Democrats outpaced their enrollment in Onondaga (38.4%) as did the GOP (27.3%). The story of the 2021 election continues to be non-enrolled voters participating at lower rates. Their 895 ballots were just 14.9% of the absentee ballot total despite being 27.3% of the overall electorate. There were 9438 absentee ballots requested overall with 3423 (36.29%) not returning their ballot. Another 225 the ballots were returned as undeliverable (2.4%) most likely permanent absentees who moved since last election.

Another 185 were returned but ruled invalid. Of the invalids 56 (30.3%) were ruled that way because they did not properly fill out the ballot envelope and did not return the cure affidavit sent by the BOE in time. Another 42 (22.7%) returned their absentees postmarked after Election Day. 30 (16.2%) voted in person during Early Voting or Election Day while another thirty were ruled invalid during the absentee opening after inspecting the ballots inside. Finally, 15 (8.1%) ballots were pulled as they were issued to Election Inspectors who then decided not to work on Election Day, rendering their excuse invalid.

Like Early voting, absentee ballots rise and fall in ratio to overall turnout. They also seem to correlate to federal versus local election years with voters not only increasing in numbers requested but return rate in federal years. In 2021 more voters requested and returned absentee ballots than all but a few years since 2009. 2012, 2016, and 2020 were presidential years and accounted for the high requests, 2018 a mid term year that came closer to presidential turnout than others. In 2010 there were less requests but slightly more returned ballots. Despite a low turnout for 2021, a higher number of voters are turning toward alternative voting methods from Election Day. The downside for absentees is that despite the high number of requests there was a high number of ballots unreturned as compared to previous years. The 63.7% return rate was the lowest return rate since 2009 (61.2%).

Ever since the reforms initiated in 2019 that brought about Early Voting the electorate has been adapting to the new options for voting. As we can see in 2019 the call for absentee ballots was low with just 3788 voters choosing this method or just 3.52% of the overall vote. Voters were turning to Early Voting for their alternative method. As COVID 19 raised its head in 2020 voters sought to stay at home and vote in record numbers with 57203 voters and a daunting 24.08% of the overall vote. In 2021 with COVID still lingering and voters used to alternative methods we did see a marked increase in ballots returned of 6015 and overall electorate percentage of 6.38%.

Two other alternative forms of voting remain to be examined, affidavit and court orders. In 2019 a little-known reform has made affidavit voting a more potent method of voting, the universal transfer of registration. This allows more affidavits to be counted than before since it expanded the acceptable eligibility of registered voters from the county where the vote was cast to all of New York State. This eliminated one of the more common reasons a voter affidavit was reject. In 2021 547 voters cast ballots as affidavits. Only forty-four were ruled invalid. This along with the use of electronic poll books to re route voters to the right polling place has resulted in a 92% acceptance rate, the highest since 2009 and maybe ever. Most of the remaining rejected affidavits are those who refuse to show up at the right polling place or were not registered to vote in the first place.

Court orders are the last alternative voting method, but it is the least used of all. Court orders now are only used by those moving from out of state after the voter registration deadline or those who have failed to register for one reason or another. In 2021 we saw only three court orders throughout the entire Early and Election Day voting period. This is the lowest court order request on record since 2009.

That is it for this year’s #wonky Wednesdays. Next week I will continue the examination of the 2021 election with a look at the Election Day vote and then a final look back at the 2021 election with how Democrats and Republicans did in Onondaga County in overall contests. This will be my final update on Tumblr for my #wonkywednesday articles. I have a new project in the works that I will be announcing on Sunday January 2nd that will change how I communicate with voters throughout all my various platforms. Stay tuned and have a Happy New Year.

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