Vote by mail has been a stunning success in Florida, increasing turnout and making it easy and convenient to cast a ballot with time to research and reflect. But a new study shows that mail ballots cast by African-American, Hispanic or younger voters are far likelier to be rejected than others -- and rejection rates for all voters vary widely by county. These findings demonstrate the need for statewide uniformity in how county supervisors of elections evaluate ballots and that voters need to be sure they understand how to properly complete a mail ballot.
The study, commissioned by the Florida ACLU and conducted by Daniel Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Florida, shows that Pinellas County is a model for how to do vote by mail right. Pinellas has few of the problems facing other counties.
Statewide, 1 percent of ballots cast by mail are rejected, and that’s 10 times the rate for those who vote in person. Although 1 percent might seem small, it adds up to thousands and thousands of people who were disenfranchised when their ballots were rejected. In the 2016 general election, about 29 percent of Floridians (2.7 million) voted by mail. In Pinellas, where far more than half vote by mail, the rejection rate was 10 times lower than the state average, about one-tenth of 1 percent.
For a mail-in ballot to count, it must be signed and dated, and the signature must match the one on file. Either problem can be “cured,” and Pinellas is particularly good at it both through education about avoiding glitches in the first place and through proactive measures to alert voters in time to fix their mistakes when they do occur.