“Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus”
New paper by Anna Baringer, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith, available here.
The coronavirus and its concomitant need for social distancing have increased the attractiveness of voting by mail (VBM). VBM voting is nonetheless not a panacea for election administration in the time of a pandemic, and this is because a widespread move to this form of voting risks exacerbating existing inequities in mail-in ballot rejection rates across voters and jurisdictions. This motivates our examination of over 8.2 million ballots cast in the 2018 General Election in Florida, including 2.6 million VBM ballots, of which approximately 1.2 percent were rejected by local election officials. We theorize as to why rejected VBM ballots might be linked to individual voter characteristics and to election official discretion, offer a battery of descriptive statistics detailing rejected ballots in Florida’s 2018 election, and provide results from a selection
model that analyzes all of the state’s voters in 2018. We find that younger voters and voters needing assistance are disproportionately likely to have their VBM ballots rejected. We also find disproportionately high rejection rates for out-of-state and military dependents. Lastly, we find significant variation in the rejection rates of VBM ballots cast across Florida’s 67 counties, suggesting a non-uniformity in the way local election officials verify these ballots. As interest in VBM swells in light of the coronavirus, protecting the rights of all voters requires understanding why some voters’ mail ballots are rejected—diminishing their ability to participate in electoral politics—and how this might be rectified.
One in 20 ballots cast by the 56.6k 18-21 year-olds in Florida who voted by mail in the 2018 General Election were rejected as invalid by county Canvassing Boards. This figure is even higher than in previous election years, as I found in my report for ACLU Florida.
I suspect that federal Judge Mark Walker, who ruled prior to the 2018 General Election that Florida voters should have an opportunity to cure their vote-by-mail ballots if they they had a problem with their signature, might be surprised by this figure.
Perhaps I’ll write more about this troubling statistic. Or perhaps not.
It will depend on whether election records in Florida remain open to the public for scrutiny.
Chances are, they may not be. So much for the “Sunshine State.”
Republican Representative Cyndi Stevenson has introduced HB 218, https://myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=63174, which is similar to Republican Senator Tom Lee’s SB 342, https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/00342.*
The bills are a follow-up to a 2018 bill (HB 761) filed by Representative Stevenson, which would have kept voter information secret. That bill passed 10-0 out of committee. There was no public discussion or debate.
Sure, there some privacy issues that may concern some people when voter registration records available to the public. But open record laws are essential if you want to ensure you haven’t been kicked off the voter rolls or to ensure that that ballot that you cast actually is counted.
Do you know if you were one of the 35k voters in Florida who had his or her ballot rejected (either their Vote-by-Mail or their provisional ballot cast at the polls)?
Sadly if this bill passes, in the future, you may never know.
Public records are essential for scholars to be able to dig down into the weeds to ensure the equal protection of voters. Our ability to do so in Florida hinges on whether the state legislature decides to follow the self-serving recommendation of our elected Supervisors of Elections to restrict voter records and avoid public scrutiny and accountability.
Don’t be fooled about this bill being an effort to protect voters. If it passes, it will have exactly the opposite effect. Without transparency, voter disenfranchisement becomes much more of a reality.
Don’t let democracy in the Sunshine State die in darkness.
*Note: Corrections for 2019 legislation.