Archives for the month of: November, 2012

Just read Governor Scott’s canned responses in the Orlando Sentinel when asked about the long lines.

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

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


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.

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.


Here are some thoughts I penned with my colleague, Leo Villalon, two years ago regarding the launch two years ago of our US State Department exchange with voting and elections experts in six West African countries.

Counting Ballots in Florida: Where you Live Matters

Daniel A. Smith, Professor, Political Science, University of Florida, and Michael C. Herron, Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

A lesson all Floridians should have learned from the 2000 presidential election meltdown is that state law requires the uniform application across all 67 counties in Florida of the electoral code. Nonetheless, reports are surfacing that high numbers of voters in some counties are having their absentee ballots rejected by local canvassing boards, and still others indicate that voters turning out to cast early ballots at the polls are being required to vote provisional ballots.

For an absentee ballot to count, the envelope in which it was mailed must have a voter signature. The voter’s signature must match a signature on file with a relevant Supervisor of Elections Office. County canvassing boards – made up of three members, one of whom is the local supervisor of elections (unless he or she is running for re-election) – are responsible for determining if a given absentee ballot should be accepted or rejected.

Historically, and again in the 2012 presidential election, problems with a voter’s signature are associated with rejected absentee ballots.

This past week, in Palm Beach County, a woman who cast an absentee ballot that was deemed “rejected as illegal” by the county canvassing board, apparently because her signature on the back of the envelope didn’t match the record on file with the supervisor, filed a lawsuit to challenge her vote not being counted. The circuit judge who heard the case on Friday, while sympathetic to the 61-year-old’s claim that it was indeed her signature on the back of the envelope, told her from the bench, “Logic, common sense, equity, the American way – they’re all on your side.” But, “[W]hen I read the statutes I’m not convinced logic, common sense and the law reside in the same house.”

And in Volusia County, news accounts report that more than 400 voters have already have had their absentee ballots rejected by the local canvassing board, including more than 150 voters whose signatures on the back of the privacy envelopes apparently didn’t match what was on file with the local Supervisor of Elections Office.

Voters whose absentee ballots are rejected for signature problems appear to be out of luck. There are no second chances if signatures do not line up on absentee ballots. If an absentee ballot is rejected by the canvassing board, a voter may not legally cast a replacement ballot at the polls.

In 2008, according to a survey of Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections conducted after the presidential contest by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 18,456 absentee ballots were rejected statewide, roughly 1 percent of the total absentee ballots cast. Of those absentee ballots deemed to be invalid, 30.5 percent were received after the close of polls on Election Day, 34.0 percent did not have a signature on the return envelope, and 25.8 percent had a non-matching signature. A couple dozen more absentee ballots were rejected because there were multiple ballots in an envelope, the envelope returned that was returned was unofficial, or the envelope wasn’t sealed.

Turning now to problems with voting in person, Florida law allows individuals who claim to be properly registered and eligible to vote but whose eligibility cannot be verified at the polls, to cast a provisional ballot. While no hard data on the status of these ballots from Florida’s 67 counties is yet available for the 2012 election, if history is any guide, voters who are required to cast provisional ballots will be very unlikely to have their votes tabulated.

Compared to the rejection rates of absentee ballots, voters casting provisional ballots at the polls four years ago were even more likely to have their ballots rejected by canvassing boards. Indeed, over half of the 35,635 provisional ballots cast during early voting period or on Election Day in 2008 were subsequently rejected. Most of those whose provisional ballots were rejected were determined not to be registered in Florida or had voted in the wrong county (and failed to update their addresses); a few others didn’t provide adequate identification at the polls or filled out information on their provisional ballot privacy sleeves incorrectly.

The point we are trying to make clear is that many ballots cast in Florida are rejected. And, as we show in the accompanying graphic (click here) depicting the August primary – which displays the proportion of rejected absentee ballots along the X axis and provisional ballots along the Y axis, with the size of the dots representing the sum of the absentee and provisional ballots cast in the election — the likelihood of a ballot being rejected appears to depend on where it was cast, that is, in what county. All Florida voters should thus be asking, is there reason to be worried that the likelihood that my absentee or provisional ballot might be rejected depending on the county of my residence?

To get a better sense of the importance of this question, we looked at the patterns of rejected absentee and provisional ballots across Florida’s 67 counties in the recent Aug. 14 primary election. More than 786,000 voters cast absentee ballots and nearly 3,000 more were required to cast provisional ballots in this election, held only a few months ago.

Thousands of absentee and provisional ballots were rejected by county canvassing boards in the August primary. These rejection figures need to be considered in the context of a primary. That is, the primary was an election in which “super voters” — the state’s most highly engaged voters – made up the vast majority of the voter pool.

What we found by analyzing voter history files maintained by the Florida Division of Elections is that the rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots vary considerably across the state. As the graphic reveals, some counties reject a much higher proportion of absentee ballots and provisional ballots than others. Our analysis of official voter history files assumes that all absentee and provisional ballots cast were accepted unless there is unambiguous evidence in the history files that they were not. In addition, we also eliminated obvious inconsistencies in the state’s voter files in a way that we believe is appropriate.

With nearly 2 million absentee ballots already received by Supervisors of Elections Offices in advance of the upcoming 2012 general election, and countless more provisional ballots being cast during early voting (and on Election Day), there is a good possibility that we will see an even higher percentage of absentee and provisional ballots rejected by local canvassing boards than in the August primary and possibly even the 2008 general election.

Unfortunately, we won’t know definitively how many absentee and provisional ballots will be rejected until after voting has concluded and, presumably, a president named.

But the considerable variation across counties when it comes to rejecting absentee and provisional ballots is troubling. At this point we cannot say why there are considerable differences in Florida in the rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots. But, we are suspicious that election administration across the state’s 67 counties is not entirely in keeping with a uniform application of the state’s electoral code.

In order to prevent another election fiasco, we think it is crucial that election administrators not only help voters become more educated about submitting valid absentee ballots, but also do what they can to avoid forcing voters to cast provisional ballot. It is also critical that supervisors of elections and county canvassing boards apply a uniform standard when making what are often judgment calls that decide whether a ballot counts or not.

Voting is a fundamental right in the United States. Casting absentee and provisional ballots may, unfortunately, be leading to the disenfranchisement of some voters, depending on the counties in which they reside.

Drs. Smith and Herron have co-authored articles in several outlets examining voting rights and election law in Florida.

Glitch in Florida’s Voter Registration System can Disenfranchise Absentee Voters

by Michael C. Herron & Daniel A. Smith

A couple weeks ago, when we were investigating for our academic research patterns in rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots cast in the August 14, 2012 primary election, we discovered some anomalies in the Florida statewide voter file.

Upon further investigation, and after following up with some county Supervisors of Elections, we believe that we have found a troubling anomaly in Florida’s Voter Registration System. This oversight that we stumbled upon has the potential to disenfranchise registered voters who mailed in absentee ballots from their counties of residence and then subsequently updated their voter registration addresses with new information to reflect having moved.  By being vigilant and updating their voter registration information to reflect their current addresses, these voters risk becoming “self-disenfranchised.”

Basically, what’s happening is this. As soon as a voter who has moved updates her address with her new local Supervisor of Elections, her voter record in the state’s main voter database is changed so that it indicates the new county.  If, however, the voter requested and mailed in an absentee ballot for a given election while living in her old county, the state’s database will make it appear (correctly) to the former Supervisor of Elections, who no longer has custody of the voter’s file, that this voter no longer resides in said county.  As such, when the former SOE receives and tries to process the absentee ballot, mailed before the voter moved, it will be rejected.

If this voter, after updating her voter registration, were to try to cast another ballot in the same election in her new county, thinking that she should do so having moved, she would be potentially committing a felony (for voting more than once), even though her initial absentee ballot will be rejected by the SOE in the county in which she used to reside.  Still, if she persists and goes to the polls during the early voting period or on Election Day, she will be given a provisional ballot if demanded.  This provisional ballot will (correctly) be rejected as illegal by the SOE in the county in which the voter presently resides, because the registration system (correctly) indicates that she has already requested an absentee ballot in another county.

Such a civic-minded voter–who updates her voter registration after requesting an absentee ballot from a former county of residence–is caught in a Catch-22.

It’s impossible to know how many legally registered voters in Florida will be affected by this Catch-22 in the upcoming November 2012 election.  However, we know that what we have described here actually happened in the August 2012 primary to an individual who updated his place of residence after he had previously requested an absentee ballot.

And we already know of at least a dozen cases in one (relatively small) county in Florida in which a close variant of this scenario occurred.

We believe that the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections has been alerted to the glitch we’ve described here.  But we think as well that voters in Florida should be aware of it so that they avoid self-disenfranchisement.

We also hope that the Florida Division of Elections will try to remedy this situation before more of Florida’s registered voters unwittingly have their absentee ballots rejected.

Michael C. Herron is professor of government at Dartmouth College, and Daniel A. Smith is professor of political Science at the University of Florida.

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