How To Make Sure Your Florida Vote-By-Mail Ballot Counts - WUSF Public Media | Tampa NPR, Local News Coverage

How To Make Sure Your Florida Vote-By-Mail Ballot Counts

CARL LISCIANDRELLO/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Here’s a fact: If everyone who has requested an absentee ballot votes, Florida will more than double the number of mail-in votes cast in the 2016 election. And that has researchers worried that Florida could also reject a record number of ballots.

Emily Keenan has voted by mail in four of the last five general and midterm elections. The environmental scientist and mother of two living in St. Petersburg knows there’s a process: Mark the ballot clearly, sign the envelope, and mail it with enough time to arrive at the election supervisor’s office on election day.

“There’s always a little bit of doubt in the back of my mind: did I sign it correctly?” Keenan said. “And at one point in time, I remember going in and updating my signature because sometimes I include my family name, sometimes I just include my married name, and I wanted to try to be consistent.”

In 2016, Keenan’s vote-by-mail ballot in the primary election was rejected. She didn’t know about that until WMFE contacted her, using Florida’s voter records. Keenan called the rejection frustrating.

This year, she plans to vote in person to make sure it counts – unless COVID-19 cases spike.

“You think you go through the steps appropriately, and you want your voice to be heard,” she said. “And to hear that you thought you did everything right and then had it not count – it bothers you.”

In 2016, 1 percent of Florida vote-by-mail ballots didn’t count. In 2018, it ticked up slightly to 1.2 percent of vote by mail ballots being rejected

That’s 32,000 ballots not counted in 2018. And for context, that year Rick Scott beat incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson by about 10,000 votes.

And that 2018 election offers a possible preview for 2020. That election triggered weeks of litigation, accusations from Gov. Rick Scott of liberals trying to steal the election, and counter-accusations of voter suppression.

“I don’t want to predict too much because in this world, every day something seems to happen,” said Michael Herron, a Dartmouth College professor who studies election mechanics. “But what I can say is: if all the patterns stand, we should expect a lot of rejections.”

Why? Herron’s research shows people voting by mail for the first time are more likely to have their ballots rejected.

“If there’s a big surge in absentee voting, that’s going to meet a lot of people who are new to voting absentee, by definition, that’s what it means to have a surge in that. And we know those rejection rates are higher, usually like two to three times higher.”

But it’s not just inexperienced voters. Voters between the ages of 18 and 21 are eight times more likely to have a ballot rejected than voters over the age of 65. Voters with a disability are more likely to have their votes rejected. And Black and Hispanic voters are more than twice as likely to have their ballots rejected as white voters.

Herron said researchers don’t know why minorities could be treated differently in the voting process. It could be language barriers. “We could be picking up income effects,” Herron said.

So what can voters do to make sure their ballot counts? Get it in on time. The ballots must be in the hands of election officials at 7 p.m. on election. A post mark does not cut it. So mail your ballot early – at least a week before election day, or drop it off in person at your early-voting polling site.

By state law, you can not drop off your ballot at your polling site on election day – you will need to drop it off directly at your county supervisor of elections.

Beyond that: Sign your ballot envelope. Osceola County elections supervisor Mary Jane Arrington said no signature is the most common reason for rejections.

“In our envelope it’s in red,” Arrington said. “It has everything but flashing lights, you know: sign here.”

Arrington says you can track your ballot online to make sure it’s been counted. And, voters who make a signature mistake can sign what’s called a cure affidavit up to 48 hours after the election.

“You have until Thursday at five, when we close after the election, to get that information to us,” she said. “You can fax it, you can email it, you can bring it by in person, if you’ve got enough time you can mail it to us. And that is that is new this year.”

While researchers are worried a spike in new vote-by-mail users will result in a spike in vote-by-mail rejections, there is another possible outcome: More people are talking about ballots being rejected, which might mean more voters are educated about the possible pitfalls of voting by mail.

See below for a list of links for voting by mail in 2020:

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