Who Waits? Exclusive research by Herron and Smith on Early Voting in Florida

In our paper, available here, we examine the long lines in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties which stretched from Saturday, November 3, into the final Sunday before the election of early voting in Florida. Not surprising, African Americans were disproportionately more likely to be negatively affected.

Here’s the key table and figure (pages 13-14):

Miami-Dade & Palm Beach County Early Voters, Sunday November 4, 2012

EXCLUSIVE Research: Racial/Ethnic and Partisan Breakdown of Florida’s Early Voters

Dartmouth College’s Dr. Michael Herron and I have posted this paper analyzing the racial/ethnic and partisan composition of the early voters in Florida prior to the 2012 General Election.

In addition, we provide details about the voters who were forced to wait in line due to delays Saturday night in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, and who ended up casting their ballots after midnight, on Sunday, November 4, 2012.

 

Early Voting in Florida, 2012

Michael C. Herron & Daniel A. Smith
November 6, 2012

Abstract

In this paper we examine early voting patterns in the days preceding the 2012 General Election.
Drawing on the Florida statewide voter registration database (as of October 1, 2012) and 67
county-level early voting files made public by the Florida Department of State, we disaggregate
by party and by racial and ethnic group the 2.4 million votes cast in person before November 6,
2012. We find that early voting was heaviest on the final Saturday of early voting and that racial
and ethnic minorities, as well as individuals registered as Democrats and individuals registered
as “No Party Affiliation,” were disproportionately more likely than whites and Republicans,
respectively, to cast ballots on both the first Sunday and the final Saturday of early voting.
We also find that votes cast during the very early morning hours of Sunday, November 4, in
Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties—locations that suffered from exceedingly long lines
on Saturday, November 3—were disproportionately cast by black voters. Insofar as the longest
early voting lines appear to have occurred on the day in which minority voter turnout was the
greatest, it appears that minority voters, and in particular black voters, have borne heavily the
burden of House Bill 1355, a piece of election-reform legislation passed by the Florida state
legislature in 2011, which among other things reduced the early voting period in Florida from
14 to eight days and eliminated early voting on the final Sunday before a Tuesday election.

The Functional Differences between Early Voting and In-Person Absentee Ballots in Florida

Here’s a little primer, as there’s been so much confusion about “early voting,” generically speaking, in Florida.

Any registered voter may request an absentee ballot. A voter need not provide an excuse, and the process of obtaining an absentee ballot is very accommodating to voters (or their designates). There are deadlines (no later than 5pm on the 6th day before an election) when a voter must request (by mail, phone, fax, or email) his or her ballot to be mailed, and when the Supervisors of Elections must mail them, but this process is becoming automated in some counties. Several county SOEs are actively trying to encourage voters to automatically receive absentee ballots in the mail, and some are even providing pre-paid postage for the returns. Absentee ballots must be returned to the Supervisor of Elections by 7pm on Election Day.

But registered voters may also request absentee ballots in person, up to and including on Election Day.

Not all SOEs have been very accommodating, however, when these in-person requests are made. Some, like Broward County SOE Brenda Snipes, were requiring requests for an in-person absentee ballot to be made by prior to a voter stopping at her office to pick up and fill in the ballot. Others do not keep hours on the weekend or after regular business hours, even though their early voting sites may be open. Still others discourage or do not allow the practice at all. This was the controversy, which led to the Democratic Party’s lawsuit, and eventual settlement today that affected in-person absentee ballots in three south Florida counties.

The actual mechanics of voting an in-person absentee ballot, are different than voting in person during the early voting period (which was shrunk to 8 days from 14 by the state legislature), or on Election Day. When casting an absentee ballot, the signature of the voter on the back of the envelope containing the absentee ballot (either in-person or mailed) must match the existing signature on file with the Supervisor of Elections. The voter’s signature is not notarized nor witnessed.  This signature may be years, or even decades old, and may not look anything like the voter’s current signature. A SOE clerk, upon receiving the absentee ballot (in-person or otherwise), immediately pulls the voter’s electronic voter card up to verify the voter is currently registered to vote in the county and that the signature on file matches the one of the envelope. If it does not match, the absentee ballot, unopened and still in its envelope, is quarantined, to be examined later by the county’s three-member canvassing board to determine its validity.

Michael Herron and I have analyzed the rejection rates of absentee ballots across counties in recent posts, and suffice to say, there’s lots of variation.

Early voting, on the other hand, which this year was reduced by the Republican legislature to just 8 days (eliminating the first 5 days and last, “Souls to the Polls” Sunday prior to the election), allows any registered voter in a county to vote at any one of the early voting centers in the county. When checking in at the polls, the voter is asked to show a valid picture identification with a signature. The voter then signs in, and the clerk matches the signature with that on the voter’s ID card. To my knowledge, there is no matching during the early voting period (or on Election Day) of the voter’s signature with the original (or an electronic facsimile) in the voter file.

In sum, there are functional differences between casting an absentee ballot (in-person or otherwise) and voting early (or on Election Day).  Most notably, a voter ID is not necessary to vote in-person absentee, just as it is not needed for those mailing in traditional absentee ballots. But the voter’s signature on the envelope must match the signature that is on file with the SOE.  Early (and Election Day) voters must provide a valid picture ID with the voter’s signature, and the voter’s signature must match that on the ID card, not the voter file.

Two different systems to verify the identify of the voter, with two different sets of possibilities of a ballot being accepted or rejected.

Dr. Herron and I will have more to say about these differences for a paper we are presenting at the Midwest Political Science Association.