More Floridians are voting early by mail, but a greater percentage of the mail-in ballots cast by young people and people of color are rejected compared to ballots cast in person, a new study says.
Why are they rejected? Mostly due to missing or mismatched signatures, says the “Vote-by-mail Ballots Cast in Florida” report, co-authored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith.
Unlike people who go to the polls (in early voting or on Election Day), voters who use a mail-in ballot must affix their signature on their ballot before sending it back to their local supervisor of elections office.
The report says that young voters and ethnic and racial minority voters were more likely to have their vote-by-mail ballots rejected and less likely to have their issues addressed if the ballot was rejected and flagged for a signature problem.
The report examines rejected mail-in ballots cast during the 2012 and 2016 general elections. One problem researchers identified is that there’s not uniformity among the state’s 67 county Supervisors of Elections on how to address missing or mismatched signatures.
The report says that in 2016, voters under age 30 made up just 9.2 percent of all vote-by-mail voters, but they accounted for nearly 31 percent of rejected mail-in ballots.
And among black, Hispanic and other minority voters, vote-by-mail ballots were more than two-and-half times as likely to be rejected as mail-in ballots cast by white voters.
“With this revealing information, we need to work towards ensuring all Florida voter’s ballots are counted regardless of the method they choose to vote,” said University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith.
The report also provides recommendations on how to resolve the problem.
Among them: Adding a provision in the Florida statewide voter history file that would include information about why a voter’s mail ballot was rejected and whether the voter was contacted and attempted to fix problems so the mail-in ballot could be approved.
In Florida’s 2016 presidential election, only 0.7 percent of all mail-in ballots cast by white voters were rejected, 1.9 percent of mail-in ballots cast by black voters were rejected, and 1.8 percent of mail-in ballots cast by Hispanic voters were rejected.
Among black voters, the highest rejection rate was in Central Florida’s Orange County – at 5.3 percent. Among Hispanic voters, the highest rejection rate was in Alachua County at 4.8 percent.
The report applauds Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, a statewide leader in championing voting by mail. When it found problems with mail-in ballots, Clark’s office went the extra mile to contact voters and get the voter’s official identification and a signed affidavit so that the vote could be counted.