Nearly a third of Floridians cast their ballots by mail instead of voting at the polls on Election Day. Unfortunately, Florida rejects an excessive number of VBM ballots. Rejection rates increased in the 2018 General Election, despite the introduction of opportunities to cure rejected ballots. More than one out of every 100 VBM ballots was ultimately rejected – 32,176 ballots went uncounted. To put this into perspective, Florida’s 2018 Gubernatorial race was decided by 32,463 votes.
Analysis from the 2016 and 2018 elections illustrates that voting by mail in Florida is neither reliable, nor fair. Tens of thousands of voters see their vote-by-mail ballots rejected each election because, in a lay person’s opinion, they failed to replicate a signature they signed on a digital signature pad at the DMV years, even decades, ago. The Legislature attempted to improve this by allowing voters to “cure” rejected ballots by affidavit. Yet, in 2018, the rejection rate of vote-by-mail ballots increased.
Every supervisor of elections must prioritize effectively administering vote-by-mail in a reliable and fair manner.
Moreover, the risk of having a vote-by-mail ballot rejected is not equal. Whether a vote counts varies by age, race and county. Black voters, who are already more wary of voting by mail, see their mailed ballots rejected twice as often as their white neighbors. Young voters, between 18 and 21 years old, saw their mailed ballots rejected 2.5 times as often as other voters. Even uniformed service members stationed away from home, who have additional legal protections, saw their mailed ballots rejected more than three times as often as others voting by mail. While these disparities continued from 2016 to 2018, rejection rates increased for every demographic.
This is not acceptable. It is likely that vote by mail will be integral to elections until the risk of coronavirus subsides. The state must provide signature matching software as a first step in signature matching analysis to reduce the number of false rejections. Every supervisor of elections must prioritize effectively administering vote-by-mail in a reliable and fair manner.