Archives for category: Absentee Vote

Here’s my op-ed with Michael Herron in today’s Tampa Bay Times

With more than a million absentee ballots already cast in advance of the Nov. 6 general election, a question that should be on the minds of many Floridians is: Will my vote actually be counted? A healthy skepticism about the state’s electoral process is not necessarily evidence of paranoia. Indeed, a little known secret in the Sunshine State is that canvassing boards in each county are currently meeting, almost certainly marking countless absentee ballots “rejected as illegal.”

Not only are three-member canvassing boards, one per county, responsible for determining which absentee ballots are counted, they also are tasked with assessing the validity of provisional ballots cast by voters who are prevented at the polls from voting a regular ballot. An unsuspecting registered voter will be required by poll workers to cast a provisional ballot if he or she fails to provide proper ID, is accused by an observer of being ineligible to vote, or is simply making an intercounty address change.

As to the latter point, the state Legislature in 2011 decided to no longer permit registered voters in Florida who have moved from one county to another within the state to update their addresses and cast regular ballots at the polls. We expect to see plenty of provisional ballots due to this provision, and just like with absentee ballots, local canvassing boards will determine if provisional ballots — which are sealed at the polls in privacy sleeves — should be tabulated.

The important role of county canvassing boards is not new. Indeed, one of the most enduring images from Florida’s election meltdown in 2000 is that of a Palm Beach County canvassing board member, glasses perched upon forehead, holding a punch-card ballot up to the light and trying in vain to divine whether an inscrutable chad was hanging or merely dimpled. While Florida’s antiquated punch-card ballots have been retired, canvassing boards have retained their important functions in Florida election administration.

Of course, there’s good reason why canvassing boards reject some absentee and provisional ballots. Many voters fail to sign the backs of the privacy envelopes containing their absentee ballots and others are received by Supervisors of Elections offices after the polls close. But many other absentee ballots and provisional ballots are rejected because a voter’s signature appears not to match a signature on file with a county elections office. In these cases, it is left to canvassing boards to adjudicate whether a ballot should be processed and counted, or rejected outright.

The discretion of canvassing boards means that absentee ballots and ballots cast provisionally can be risky propositions for voters. Nonetheless, both the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns have pushed their followers to vote by mail (that is, absentee) in an effort to bank votes prior to Nov. 6.

In the Aug. 14 primary election, more than 786,000 voters cast absentee ballots. Over 14,500 of them—nearly 2 percent—were deemed invalid by local canvassing boards. Nearly 3,000 more Floridians were required to cast provisional ballots in the August primary, and canvassing boards found reason to reject nearly 1 out of 4 of them. Keep in mind, this was for a primary election in which “super voters” — the state’s most highly engaged voters — made up the vast majority of the voter pool.

One might think that the rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots are fairly constant across the state’s 67 counties. But by sifting through the voter history files maintained by the state Division of Elections, we found that the rate of rejected absentee and provisional ballots was not equally distributed along racial/ethnic, age, or party registration groupings in the August primary.

As the accompanying graphic reveals, Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian Americans were considerably more likely to cast absentee ballots rejected by canvassing boards than the statewide average. Hispanics, and to a lesser degree African-Americans, were also disproportionately more likely to have canvassing boards reject their provisional ballots.

In terms of partisanship, Florida voters not identifying with a political party were more likely to have their absentee and provisional ballots rejected by county canvassing boards than the statewide average. Republicans had a considerably lower percentage of their absentee and provisional ballots rejected, and Democrats fell near the statewide means.

But younger voters — those 21 and under — were the group most likely to have their absentee ballots rejected and also were more likely than the statewide average to cast invalid provisional ballots. These voters — many casting ballots for the first time — were more than three times as likely to have their absentee ballots rejected by canvassing boards in the August primary than voters 65 and older.

In the presidential election, it is quite possible that an even higher percentage of provisional ballots will be rejected by local canvassing boards as an influx of first-time and less frequent voters will be lining up at the polls. In light of the disparate absentee ballot rejection rates that we have described here, the latest tactic of the Obama campaign to mirror successful GOP efforts — namely, encouraging its supporters to cast absentee ballots — may in retrospect not look very wise.

Looking beyond the 2012 presidential campaign, we believe that efforts to address differences in varying ballot rejection rates are necessary. These efforts might involve more coordination across Florida’s 67 counties, so that all Florida voters face identical standards when their ballots are evaluated, and they could also involve more extensive voter education efforts that remind voters of the importance of signing their absentee ballot certificates. The right to vote is a fundamental one in the United States, and the high absentee and provisional ballot rejection rates we document in the recent August primary should be a concern for all Floridians.

August 14 2012, Primary Election
             

Absentee Rejection Rate

 

Provisional Rejection Rate

Overall 0.018 0.220
     
Race/Ethnicity    
American Indian 0.019 0.158
Asian 0.035 0.212
Black 0.028 0.243
Hispanic 0.028 0.327
White 0.016 0.180
     
     
Party    
DEM 0.019 0.225
NPA 0.025 0.341
REP 0.017 0.152
     
Age    
young (21 & younger)   0.046 0.286
middle (22-64) 0.025 0.212
old (65 & older)   0.013 0.180

 

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

An interesting case coming out of Davie, Florida.

The Orlando Sentinel has the details.

Here’s a copy of my written testimony with Prof. Michael Herron, which I presented on January 27, 2012 in Tampa, Florida, before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, “New State Voting Laws II: Protecting the Right to Vote in the Sunshine State.”

Here are the slides I projected during my 7 minute oral testimony.

And here’s the link to the key plot showing by day the racial/ethnic early in-person voting in Florida in the 2008 General Election.

If you’re interested in discussing our testimony, please contact me at “president<at>electionsmith[dot]com

“New State Voting Laws II: Protecting the Right to Vote in the Sunshine State”

Senate Judiciary Committee
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
DATE: January 27, 2012
TIME: 01:00 PM
ROOM: Hillsborough County Courthouse
OFFICIAL HEARING NOTICE / WITNESS LIST:

January 12, 2012
NOTICE OF SUBCOMMITTEE FIELD HEARING

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a field hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights entitled “New State Voting Laws II: Protecting the Right to Vote in the Sunshine State” for Friday, January 27, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, 800 E. Twiggs Street, Tampa, FL 33602.

Chairman Durbin to preside.

By order of the Chairman.

Witness List

Hearing before the
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights

On

“New State Voting Laws II: Protecting the Right to Vote in the Sunshine State”
Friday, January 27, 2012
Hillsborough County Courthouse
800 E. Twiggs Street, Tampa, FL 33602
1:00 p.m.

Panel I

Michael Ertel
Supervisor of Elections, Seminole County
Sanford, FL

Ann McFall
Supervisor of Elections, Volusia County
DeLand, FL

Hon. Bruce Smathers
Former Secretary of State of Florida
Jacksonville, FL

Panel II

Daryl Parks
President
National Bar Association
Tallahassee, FL

Sara Pemberton
President
Florida College System Student Government Association
Clearwater, FL

Dr. Daniel A. Smith
Professor of Political Science
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL

Brent A. Wilkes
National Executive Director
League of United Latin American Citizens
Washington, DC

Here’s a link to the official announcement

 

Last week, the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, denied a complaint by Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning  challenging sections of the Voting Rights Act.  The Florida Secretary of State was seeking an expedited hearing on whether HB1355, Florida’s controversial legislation overhauling voting rights and election administration in the state, complied with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal preclearance for five Florida counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe).  Secretary of State Browning is requesting that the federal district court approve portions of the new law–specifically third party voter registration, out-of-­county address changes, petition signature verification, and early voting–rather than waiting for US Department of Justice’s preclearance.

Although on hold for the five counties awaiting US Justice Department preclearance, the Florida Division of Elections has been working with the Supervisors of Elections in the remaining 62 counties not covered by Section 5 of the VRA to implement the many new provisions under HB1355 (Chapter 2011-40) in anticipation of the January 31 Presidential Preference Primary.

However, under Florida law, the state must provide uniform standards for the proper and equitable implementation of the voter registration laws. It is the responsibility of the Florida Secretary of State, as unambiguously stated on the Florida Division of Elections website, “to ensure statewide uniformity in the interpretation of the election laws.”

But the uneven implementation of HB1355 continues, unabated.

Clearly, Florida’s dual election system is not treating all Floridians the same.  As the Brennan Center noted back in June:

  • The new voter registration regulations would be in force in some counties but not others, unfairly and unlawfully creating two separate sets of rules governing voter registration in different parts of the state.
  • Some counties would unfairly be left with a dramatically shorter early voting period than others, as the new law cuts the opportunity for early voting to fourteen days to eight
  • Floridians who moved recently would have varying difficulty voting depending on their new county of residence, as implementation of the new law would end Florida’s longstanding policy of allowing citizens who have recently moved to easily change their registration address on Election Day and vote normally at their poll site.

In denying the state’s request for an expedited hearing and decision, the federal district court’s decision to wait until May to hear oral arguments has virtually assured that the January 31 PPP will be conducted with two sets of election laws, which directly conflicts with existing Florida statutes. But of course, the blame doesn’t lie at the feet of the federal district court. It lies at the feet of the Republican-controlled legislature and the Office of the Secretary of State, who has a constituency of one: Governor Scott.

Again, the Brennan Center in a letter to Secretary Browning on behalf of several voting rights advocacy groups, nails it:

Under Florida statute § 97.012 and prior advisory opinions by the Division, the Secretary of State has a duty to ensure uniformity in the application, operation, and interpretation of the state’s election laws. Applying HB 1355’s extensive changes to the voting and voter registration process only in certain counties, but not in the five counties for which preclearance is required under the federal Voting Rights Act before implementing voting changes, clearly conflicts with this legal mandate.

We therefore request that you immediately advise all Supervisors of Elections that the provisions of H.B. 1355 are unenforceable until they can be applied uniformly in all Florida counties, as state law requires.

Of course, uneven implementation of voting and election laws also violates federal law.  In 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). HAVA was Congress’s effort to clean up the mess in Florida resulting from the 2000 presidential recount.  In order for Florida and other states to receive the billions of dollars appropriated to improve the electoral process, state elections officials were required to implement numerous reforms mandated under HAVA.

Among its many provisions, HAVA requires that the states  “implement in a uniform and nondiscriminatory manner, a single, uniform, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered at the state level.” By most all accounts, Florida achieved by the January 1, 2006 federal deadline, with the Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS).  The implementation of HB1355 in 62 counties, but not the other 5, is clearly in violation of HAVA.

Bush v. Gore may be dead (or at least dormant), but Florida’s Dual Election System may breathe some new life into it.

Professor Michael Herron (Dartmouth) and I look forward to sharing our findings on early voting in Florida in the 2008 election at the 2012 State Politics and Policy Conference to be held in Houston, TX on February 16-18, when we present our paper, “The Participatory Impact of Truncating Early Voting in Florida.” It’s pretty timely, given all the attention that Florida US Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have given to early voting and HB1355.

Here’s our Abstract (tentative):

Over the past two decades, an increasing number of American states have made it more convenient for potential voters to cast early ballots.  Starting with Texas’ adoption of in-person early voting in 1988, 32 states now provide an extended time period prior to Election Day for voters to go to the polls.  Despite the diffusion of and praise by voting rights advocates for early voting, in 2011 the Florida legislature enacted House Bill 1355, which truncated the state’s early voting period from a total of 14 days to eight days and completely eliminated  early voting on the Sunday immediately preceding Election Day.  Critics of the legislation contend the surreptitious goal of the Republican-controlled legislature was to depress African American early voting turnout in 2012.

In this paper, we draw on an original dataset to gauge the potential participatory ramifications of HB 1355 by examining patterns of early voting in the 2008 general election.  By merging the state’s 2008 voter file, comprised of more than 11.3 million registered voters, with the state’s November 2008 early voter file, we are able to assess and study the race and ethnicity, party registration, age, gender, precinct/county registration, and vote history of each registered voter, including those who cast an early ballot, in 2008.

Unlike many studies of early voting in the American states which rely on aggregate-level data, we are able to pinpoint not only which voters were more likely to cast early ballots—specifically their socio-demographic characteristics—but we can also describe on which day during the two-week period in 2008 that they voted.  We employ a variety of multivariate models to test the conventional wisdom that African American voters are more likely than whites to vote early, and vote on Sunday, and that older and partisan voters vote early more often (Stein 1998). In addition, using a voter’s vote history to model early voting, we challenge the growing scholarly consensus—which is based largely on survey data—that early voting merely retains engaged voters (Stein 1998; Neely and Richardson 2001; Berinsky 2005; Kousser and Mullen 2007; Burden, et al. 2011; Gronke, Galanes-Rosenbaum, and Miller 2008) rather than stimulating peripheral voters.

I’ve been writing a lot over the past five months about House Bill 1355, dubbed by many as Florida’s ignominious voter suppression law. HB1355  is being challenge in federal court, and the US Justice Department has yet to grant preclearance of portions of the law which cover five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  Defending the law, the Florida Secretary of State is suing in Federal Court to not only uphold all sections of the law, but to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Most of the attention that I and others have given to HB1355 has focused on three areas that the GOP-controlled legislature cracked down on in order to make it more difficult for citizens of Florida to register to vote and cast a ballot, namely:

1) Reducing the number of days for early voting from 14 days to eight days, and altogether eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the Tuesday election.

2) Requiring third-party voter registration organizations to submit voter registration applications within 48 hours of receipt instead of ten days as provided by existing law, and imposing a fine of $50 for each failure to comply with the deadline, and imposing fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply with other provisions.

3) Disallowing voters who move from one Florida county to another to make an address change at the polls on the day of an election and vote a regular ballot, except for active military voters and their family members.

(Less attention has been given to the portion of the law that reduces the shelf-life of citizen initiative petition signatures proposing constitutional amendments from four years to two years.)

Virtually no attention has been given to HB1355′s impact on absentee voting in Florida. The reason is fairly simple: the law has actually made it easier for citizens to cast an absentee ballot, and actually, increases the likelihood of voter fraud.

Absentee ballot fraud is not limited to Miami mayoral races. Just yesterday, several people in Madison County, including a candidate for school board, were arrested and charged with obtaining absentee ballots for other people without the voters’ knowledge or consent.  The candidate and her accomplices then provided an alternate address for the ballots to be mailed by the Supervisor of Elections, and allegedly then retrieved the ballots from the third party locations, brought the ballots to the voter, sometimes with the ballots already filled out, and then had the voter sign the absentee ballot signature envelope.

Tragically, HB1355 eliminates the provision that existed in 2010 when the fraud occurred, making future absentee ballot fraud more difficult to prosecute. Prior to the election code being changed by the Republican legislature in 2011, Supervisors of Elections were required to send absentee ballot to a voter’s registered address, unless the voter was absent from the county, hospitalized, or temporarily unable to occupy their residence.

But these provisions to reduce the possibility of absentee voter fraud were stricken by HB1355.  Instead of being required (with the forgoing exceptions) to send an absentee ballot “By nonforwardable, return-if-undeliverable mail to the elector’s current mailing address on file with the supervisor,” supervisors now may be asked by anyone (even over the phone) to mail an absentee ballot “to any other address the elector specifies in the request.”

HB1355 is an embarrassment, plain and simple. The Republican-controlled legislature’s intention was not to reduce voter fraud, of which there is virtually none when it comes to voter registration and early voting.  The reason lawmakers turned a blind eye to absentee ballots in the state–where there is clear evidence of voter fraud–is because registered Republicans are much more likely to use this form of convenience voting than their Democratic counterparts.  In 2008, Republicans had a 10.8% lead over Democrats voting absentee ballots by Election Day.

Partisan politics in Florida have reached a new low.

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