According to an article published by The Atlantic in late October:

A political scientist at Carroll College, working on behalf of plaintiffs challenging Ohio’s signature-matching law, found that 97 percent of rejected signatures are likely to be authentic—or, for every invalid ballot, 32 valid ones are thrown out.

Even in normal election cycles, signature-matching requirements result in many ballots being rejected. Hundreds of thousands of such ballots were disqualified this way in 2016—almost all, presumably, cast by voters who had done everything right. Rejections disproportionately hit certain demographic groups, including elderly voters, young voters, and voters of color, that are expected to heavily favor Vice President Joe Biden this fall. As voting by mail surges across the country, many elections, including the presidential race, could hinge on a process that one expert recently described to me as “witchcraft.”

The article then goes to discuss in more factual terms how the signature matching standards vary across states and how in some states the guidelines have changed to tilt towards accepting rather than rejecting a questionable signature. (Sometimes such a change was in the context of lawsuits, e.g. in Pennsylvania.)

Are there any statistics or even estimates informed from actual 2020 patterns/samples (not extrapolations using 2016 data) of how many mail-in votes were rejected across the US for failing the signature match test in the 2020 election?

N.B., ABC provided a more detailed account for 2016 and 2018:

Why were so many mail-in ballots tossed out? The biggest reason cited by local election officials is, simply, the lack of a valid signature.

ABC News analysis of EAVS data from 2016 and 2018 revealed that nearly 290,000 mailed ballots were scrapped because the voter did not properly sign the ballot, signed in a way that did not match their registration signature or did not have a required witness validation.

Signature issues account for about 57% of the more than 500,000 mail-in ballots with “identifiable” reasons for rejection in 2016 and 2018, followed by voters missing the deadline to return ballots, which accounted for about 37% of rejections.

I suppose a part of this question is also how many of the initially rejected signatures were "cured" in 2020, because...

Twenty-two states notify voters and give them a chance to cure, or fix, ballot signature defects within a few days of the election, according to the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. But 28 states -- including the key battlegrounds of Michigan and Wisconsin -- do not.

  • Well, I found 2020 stats for Fulton County since that was the subject of a fact-check on a claim, but it seems too little even for a partial answer. Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 9:52

2 Answers 2


The Electoral Administration Committee has made its 2020 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) report available to the public - this notes that failing the signature-matching test was the most common reason for rejecting a mail-in ballot; with 32.8% of rejections being for this reason. As for how many rejected ballots this actually amounts to, the report has the following figures:

States reported transmitting a total of 90,687,978 mailed ballots to non-UOCAVA voters for the November 2020 general election, of which 70,551,227 were returned by voters. This means that 77.8% of the transmitted mailed ballots were returned by voters, and of the returned ballots, 98.8% were counted and 0.8% were rejected.

Taking 32.8% of 0.8% of the 70,551,227 returned ballots gives us a figure of around 185,126 mail-in ballots being rejected for this reason.

Of the 19,060 UOCAVA ballots rejected, 19.6% were rejected due to voter signature problems. However, this is only reported in aggregate, and not broken down by method of return - 18.2% of uniformed services members and 51.0% of overseas citizens used email ballots, rather than mail-in ballots.

  • 2
    of the returned ballots, 98.8% were counted and 0.8% were rejected -> makes me wonder what happened to the other 0.4% percent of ballots...
    – Evargalo
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 12:55
  • 2
    @Evargalo the report isn't much help on that point: "A total of 0.4% of the mailed ballots returned by voters (C1b) were not classified as having been either counted (C3a) or rejected (C4a)"
    – CDJB
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 12:56
  • 1
    @Evargalo Up to half of that could be rounding error.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 16:08

The data is not yet fully in on this, but as a partial answer you can watch this Ballotpedia page. It is updating as data becomes available, but 2020 data is still missing from 15 states. This includes, importantly, Pennsylvania and New York, both of which have had controversy around their signature matching policies before.

That page also does not distinguish between signature-match rejections and other reasons ballots may be found defective, but it establishes the outer bounds for how many could possibly be signature-related defects. As of right now the highest rejection rate is from my own state of Massachusetts, which tossed 1.3% of all mail-in ballots in 2020.

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