According to reporting by Omroep West, a postal voting trial in The Hague failed with over half of the ballots ruled invalid. The trial is an experiment for the upcoming general election in the Netherlands in which over 70s are allowed to cast their ballot by mail. Of the mock ballots cast in the trial, over half were invalid. Reasons named in the article are: lacking a signature or being submitted in the wrong envelope. Extrapolating to the expected number of mail-in ballots in the real election, the trial leader warns up to 650.000 people may cast an invalid postal vote.

This seems very odd to me, especially considering other elections abroad where postal voting has been used successfully. As such, I'm wondering what the failure rates are with postal voting in other countries. Are postal votes generally ruled invalid at a higher rate compared to in-person voting in the same election?

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    According to the news report, the test group was comprised of twelve people ("Een groep van twaalf senioren uit Den Haag heeft vandaag ...") . It seems hard to justify drawing any conclusion from this small a sample size. It is not even clear whether the participants were chosen at random.
    – njuffa
    Feb 12, 2021 at 5:32
  • @njuffa: That sounds more like a focus group than a "proper" experiment to me. I wonder if they interviewed the voters?
    – Kevin
    Feb 12, 2021 at 8:43
  • @Kevin: People who can understand Dutch might want to check out the video clip uploaded by Omroep West to YouTube showing the "experiment" in progress .
    – njuffa
    Feb 12, 2021 at 9:00
  • Europe's stats on mail in voiting: 74% entirely ban absentee voting for citizens who live in their country. Another 6% allow it, but have very restrictive rules, such as limiting it to those in the military or are in a hospital, and they require evidence that those conditions are met. Another 15% allow absentee ballots but require that one has to present a photo voter ID to acquire it. Thirty-five percent of European countries completely ban absentee ballots for even those living outside their country papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3756988
    – user9790
    Feb 16, 2021 at 16:20
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    @KDog That paper, which happens to be by the same author, claims the UK requires ID to get an postal ballot, which is simply untrue. He even lists the requirements at the bottom to get a postal ballot, and nowhere does it mention photo ID.
    – Dan Scally
    Feb 18, 2021 at 23:28

2 Answers 2


In the U.S., the rate at which mail in ballots were invalidated in 2020 was about 1.0% and it was about 1.4% in 2016 and 2018.

This is a somewhat tricky comparison, however, because the U.S. involves 51 different sets of laws governing when mail in ballots are valid, and there is wide variation from state to state (as shown at the link above) in invalidity rates for mail in ballots under the laws of different states, ranging from 0% to 6.42% in 2016 and from 0.34% to 7.56% in 2018 (only incomplete state by state data is available for 2020).

Some small percentage of ballots are also invalidated in in person voting, for a variety of reasons, such as selecting more than one candidate when only one vote for a post is authorized by law, or for writing in a candidate not certified as a write in candidate.

In contrast, in a Dutch election there would be only one applicable statute.

One pertinent distinction is that the Dutch election process would apply only to voters over the age of 70 years of age, while the U.S. figures, under U.S. election laws, apply to voters of all ages, or even when age or disability is a condition to absentee ballot access, to a much broader age range than is allowed in the Dutch election.

It is not unreasonable to guess that people over the age of 70 in the Netherlands who elect to vote by mail rather than to vote in person, as is customary there, are disproportionately suffering from serious physical or minor cognitive disabilities (even within the subset of potential voters age 70 or above) and that this highly biased set of mail-in voters contributes greatly to the invalid ballot rate.

It is also likely that since mail in ballot is not the historical norm in the Netherlands, that officials have not used particularly clear instructions and forms to communicate to mail in voters what they must do, something that could be addressed with the better mail in ballot process and ballot design found in jurisdictions where mail in ballots are more common.

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    Various U.S. states (including California, where I reside) also have a process for "curing" mail-in ballots: "Ballot curing refers to the process by which voters can correct mistakes — such as a missing or mismatched signature — with an absentee/mail-in ballot so that the ballot can be counted. Ballot curing provisions lay out this process in state law." Do the Netherlands implement a similar process?
    – njuffa
    Feb 12, 2021 at 5:37
  • "that people over the age of 70 in the Netherlands who elect to vote by mail rather than to vote in person, as is customary there, are disproportionately suffering from serious physical or minor cognitive disabilities" Hell, I'm 69 in April. Am I soon going to be considered a senile cripple? I'm not Dutch so maybe I'm OK. Feb 12, 2021 at 10:29
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    @MichaelHarvey Well, of course the are proportionately suffering from more physical and cognitive disabilities, in every country of the world. When did you last see a 20-year-old using a walking stick (excluding use when recovering from a short-term injury like a broken leg), or suffering from dementia? And self-selection applies - you might choose postal voting because voting in person is physically difficult. But the statement is meaningless out of context, of course.
    – alephzero
    Feb 12, 2021 at 11:29
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    This is kind of dubious analysis because most of the US standards for evaluating authenticity were removed outright, were not there at all to begin with, were water downed considerably, or not allowed to be challenged for veracity. Under those conditions, it is almost impossible to get an invalid ballot.
    – user9790
    Feb 15, 2021 at 16:53
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    I'd say that people who are actually voting and want their vote to count will be much more motivated to check that they followed all the rules than people who are just a test group. If you had a test where everyone (even of twelve people) who delivers a valid vote gets $100, and everyone whose vote is invalid gets nothing, I'll bet that the percentage of correct votes will be much higher.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 16, 2021 at 8:15

The Electoral Commission in the UK published a report in 2017 (UKPGE 2017 Electoral Data Report) which analysed the 2017 General Election. (The report also gives statistics for 2010 and 2015.)

In brief (2017):

  • There were over 32 million votes cast and 8.4 million postal votes issued;
  • For ballot box (i.e. non-postal) turnout, 0.2% of the ballots were rejected;
  • For postal votes, 2.4% were rejected;
  • Mismatched information (signatures / DoB) accounted for 48.5% of those rejected postal votes;
  • Missing forms accounted for 33.2% of the rejections;
  • Missing information accounted for 18.3%.

The section on postal voting concludes with:

It is worth noting that these percentages represent very small numbers of postal votes. For example, although 48.5% of rejected postal votes were rejected due to mismatched information, this represents 1.2% of covering envelopes received and 0.3% of all votes cast. The vast majority of postal voters did correctly file their returns.

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