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A rule change made it easier for voters who forgot to sign their return envelopes to have their ballots counted in 2020.

COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - Oregon vote by mail ballot envelopes in an elections center.Although a record number of Oregonians voted in the 2020 general election, the number of ballots rejected for technical reasons dropped from the 2016 general election.

State election officials say 2.4 million ballots were returned in last November's election. That is 18% more than the 2 million ballots returned in the previous presidential election year.

But the number of ballots rejected for signature problems fell by 5%. In the 2016 general election, 17,574 ballots were rejected because their return envelopes were not signed or their signatures did not match those on file with elections officials. Four years later, only 16,680 ballots were rejected for those reasons.

The decline reflects the national results of the 2020 general election. Although final figures are still being collected, election experts said far fewer mail-in ballots were rejected for technical reasons across the country than expected, especially considering how many states allowed more people to vote by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Donald Trump and his supporters have pointed to the low rejection rate as evidence of widespread voter fraud. But the reason in Oregon is simple.

According to Multnomah County Election Program Communications Specialist Eric Sample, state election rules were changed between the two elections to make it easier for voters who failed to sign their ballots to submit a new signature before the final results were certified.

Before the change, voters who did not sign their return envelopes had to physically come into a county elections office and do so before a deadline for their ballots to be counted. After the change, they only had to sign and return a statement that said they are legally qualified to vote and had voted.

The result of the change was dramatic. In Multnomah County, only 16% of voters who did not sign their envelope returned a new registration card in time in 2016. After the change, that jumped to 67%.

"The change made it a lot easier for voters who hadn't signed their envelopes," Samples said.

Voters whose signatures did not match still had to submit a new voter registration cards for their votes to count. The percent increased between the two elections, but not as much — 50% in 2016 and 63% in 2020.

The percent of rejected ballots in both elections was very small. Statewide, only 0.9% were ultimately rejected in 2016 compared to 0.7% in 2020. In Multnomah County, only 0.4% were rejected in 2016 compared to 0.6% in 2020.

Although those are small percentages, they are still enough votes to change the results of close elections. For example, 292 ballots in Gresham were rejected for signature problems in the 2020 general election. But the mayor's race on that ballot was decided by only 13 votes. Small business owner Travis Stovall edged out Gresham council member and community organizer Eddy Morales after a recount required by state election laws because the unofficial result was so close.

"People say their vote doesn't matter, but look at the Gresham mayor's race. It absolutely does," said Jerome Brooks, Stovall's campaign manager.

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