All eyes are trained on Nov. 3, expected to be the most chaotic election in modern US history. Now, a new possible wrench that has some worried the battle may be prolonged way past Election Day, as well as about disenfranchisement. The Washington Post reports that nearly 535,000 mail-in ballots used in the primaries in 23 states were rejected, either because they didn't get to their destination in time; due to voter error, such as a missing signature; or because of other technicalities, such as signatures not matching up to those on record, or even things like torn envelopes. NPR has a chart that includes 30 states, with a total of 550,000 rejected ballots, and it notes that figure is "almost certainly an underestimate." Either way, it's far more than the 319,000 or so ballots dumped in the 2016 general election, about 1% of the total 33.4 million ballots cast by mail.
This year, 195 million Americans qualify to send ballots by mail in the general, upping the risk for an even higher number of rejections, especially for first-time voters or those who've never filled out a mail-in ballot. Of special concern: swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which Donald Trump won by about 80,000 votes. Per the Post's count, the primaries this year in those three states led to more than 60,000 mail-in ballots being tossed—and it's expected many more people will come out for the general there than in the primary. All of this could disproportionately disenfranchise young voters and voters of color, who studies have shown are more likely to have their ballots spurned. "If the election is close, it doesn't matter how well it was run—it will be a mess," an MIT expert tells the paper. "The two campaigns will be arguing over nonconforming ballots." (Read more mail-in voting stories.)