Two U.S. Reps from FL sponsor federal legislation to make sure vote-by-mail ballots count

Voting
Photo by CD Davidson-Hiers

With vote-by-mail issues still problematic, Democratic U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch are introducing their own bill to help voters make sure their votes are counted.

At issue are problems with vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots that may or may not be eligible, and the South Florida Congressmen want to bolster voters’ rights at the polls.

“Unfortunately, Florida seems to be the place where we learn a lot of hard lessons about our elections. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes again,” Deutch said in a statement Tuesday. “The 2018 midterms made clear we aren’t ready for 2020. From election security, to money in politics, to election administration, we need reforms that will make it easier to vote and protect the voting rights of all Americans.”

The actions by the two U.S. Representatives come a day after a Congressional committee heard testimony in Fort Lauderdale about voting problems, and following the Florida Legislature’s approval of a bill to make modest reforms to state election laws. (Gov. Ron DeSantis has to sign, veto, or let it become law without his signature).

Deutch and Hastings announced the “Protecting American Votes Act,” which would address vote-by-mail ballot issues that surfaced after last fall’s election. Many of the provisions are similar to Florida’s bill.

The federal bill would require:

–Elections officials to make two attempts to notify voters by mail, text, phone or e-mail when their ballots are rejected based on a signature mismatch. That means the voter’s signature doesn’t match up with the original signature on file at their local supervisor of election’s office.

–States to provide at least 10 days from the date of notification to fix the mismatch to verify a voter’s identity and ensure their vote is counted.

–Formal training for officials who review signatures.

–Elections officials to provide a report to Congress detailing the number of ballots that are rejected and a description of the notification and the process used to protect voters.

“Given that voting is sacred and fundamental to the health of our democracy, the rejection of any legally cast ballot is extremely disturbing,” Rep. Hastings said. “Yet, across our country, and in particular, in my home state of Florida, voters have been denied their right to vote because of penmanship. To make matters worse, election officials did not even tell the affected voters that their ballot was rejected.”

The U.S. election-related committee hearing in Fort Lauderdale was the sixth field trip since Democrats retook the House of Representatives in January. Much of Monday’s hearing was focused on the Florida Legislature’s implementation of Amendment 4, the state Constitutional Amendment that restored the voting rights of felons in Florida.

The committee is chaired by U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio. She told USA Today that part of the panel’s goal is to create records of concerns to support restoring part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 threw out a provision of the Voting Rights Act that determined which states and localities with a history of voter discrimination had to get “pre-clearance” from federal officials before making election changes.

The Court said Congress must devise a new formula to determine which states and counties should remain subject to federal election oversight of election law changes.

That 2013 ruling affected five Florida counties which needed pre-clearance: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry.

The committee is scheduled to release a report based on its findings from around the country by the end of summer.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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