Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus

Anna Baringer, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith, available here.

Abstract
The COVID-19 pandemic and its concomitant need for social distancing have increased the attractiveness of voting by mail. This form of voting is nonetheless not a panacea for election administration in the time of a public health crisis, as a widespread move to ballots cast by voting by mail risks exacerbating existing inequities in mail-in ballot rejection rates across voters and jurisdictions. This motivates our examination of the roughly 9.6 million and 8.2 million ballots cast in the 2016 and 2018 general elections in Florida, respectively, including over 2.6 million vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots cast in each. Using a selection model that analyzes all ballots cast and those VBM ballots not counted in Florida in these two elections, we find that younger voters, voters not registered with a major political party, and voters in need of assistance when voting are disproportionately likely to have their VBM ballots not count. We also find disproportionately high rejection rates of mail ballots cast by Hispanic voters, out-of-state voters, and military dependents in the 2018 general election. Lastly, we find significant variation in the rejection rates of VBM ballots cast across Florida’s 67 counties in the 2018 election, suggesting a non-uniformity in the way local election officials verify these ballots. As interest in expanding mail voting swells as a consequence of the novel coronavirus, protecting the rights of all voters to participate in electoral politics requires a characterization of the correlates of VBM ballot rejection with an eye toward considering how disparities in ballot rejection rates might be rectified.

Which Florida County, according to the Mueller Report, was compromised by Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election?

According to the Mueller Report, Russian operatives were able to “gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”

Which one? And was it even a county Supervisor of Elections office?

According to Sun Sentinel, SOEs in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade all claim they weren’t hacked. Paul Lux, SOE of Okaloosa County and head of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, says he had “not heard from any county in Florida” that an elections office was compromised.

So, that only leaves 63 more SOEs to come clean….

Some keen observers have noted that in August during the 2018 campaign, Senator Bill Nelson visited with Taylor County SOE Dana Southerland, raising speculation that the small north Florida county may have been the one that may have been hacked in 2016.  But Nelson’s visit could have just as easily been tied his effort to make sure the $19.2 million in federal dollars to help counties defend against cyberattacks in the 2018 election was being allocated. Indeed, according to news reports, Nelson had “met privately Wednesday with about a dozen elections officials from Florida’s smallest counties, where the need for more money is greatest.”

Certainly, there is no indication that voters in Taylor County had problems voting or having their votes count, according to its Conduct of Election report filed after the election.  And my analysis of the vote histories in the 2016 election suggest no anomolous patters, either.  Of the nearly 13k registered voters, over 73% turned out, with Republicans turning out at a higher rate than Democrats, and a majority of NPAs staying home.  There were only 10 provisional ballots rejected (out of more than 7k cast early in-person and on Election Day), and only 16 VBM ballots rejected (out of roughly 2.5k cast). Again, nothing to raise major concerns.

So, it seems like the easiest way to get to the bottom of this mystery is to have reporters to continue to ask the other 63 SOEs if their systems were breached.

ICYMI, check out my report for @ACLUFL, “Vote-By-Mail Ballots Cast in Florida”

Check out my report for the ACLU of Florida,  “Vote-By-Mail Ballots Cast in Florida.” Vote-by-mail ballots cast in the 2012 and 2016 general election had a higher rejection rate than votes cast at assigned precincts on Election Day and at early voting sites, and more importantly, younger voters and racial and ethnic minority voters were much more likely to cast mail ballots that were rejected and were less likely to have their ballots cured.

Full report is available here.

How did Heavily Haitian Precincts in Florida Vote in the 2016 General Election? (Let’s just say, I expect Trumpian Ron DeSantis to do even worse than Trump.)

The precincts below have at least 100 Hatian-born naturalized citizens who voted in the 2016 General Election, and at least 50% of those who turned out in the precinct are black (according to the statewide voter file). Most of these heavily Haitian precincts are in Miami-Dade County, but several others are in Palm Beach and Broward counties. There are even a couple in Orange County. Despite having druthers over (or downright anger towards) the Clinton Foundation and its overt meddling over the years in Haitian elections and ineffective disaster relief, every one of these heavily Haitian precincts went heavily for Hillary, most with well above 80% of the two-party vote.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ comment, that Florida shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing Democrat nominee, Andrew Gillum, only adds to the pile President Trump started when he referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries.”

Haiti 2016 precinct vote

Is Black Turnout going to Increase in Florida’s 2018 General Election with Andrew Gillum as the Democratic Nominee?

In the 2016 General Election, younger African American registered voters in Florida didn’t turn out to vote. For Andrew Gillum to have a shot at winning in November, that has to change.

Here’s a plot of the count of registered black voters in Florida as of December 2016, by gender (excluding those with missing data).

Surprising no one, there were nearly 300,000 fewer black men registered voters in Florida than black females in late 2016. The biggest gap between black men and women registered in Florida is among those in their middle-age. For more on the missing black population (which then relates to registered voters and representation), you might want to read of an article by my coauthors and me.

But when it comes to turnout, in the November 2016 election younger (18-26 year olds) black registered voters–male and female alike–were much more likely to stay home than go to the polls than older African Americans in Florida.

As the plot below reveals, though, younger black males accounted for a disproportionate amount of the turnout gap in Florida’s 2016 General Election. For example, as shown above, although there were over 120,000 blacks aged 21-24 years-old who didn’t vote in 2016, nearly 70,000 of those who didn’t vote were registered black men (as the plot below reveals).

We’ll see if these distributions continue this coming November with Andrew Gillum on the ballot. The 2018 gubernatorial race in Florida is all about mobilization of the base.