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ACLU Study Finds Florida VBM Ballots Are More Likely To Be Rejected: Here’s How To Fix That

WUWF Public Media

A study by the ACLU released in September found Florida vote by mail ballots are 10 times more likely to be rejected than a ballot cast during early voting or on Election Day.

Daniel Smith is the author of the ACLU report and works as a political science professor at the University of Florida. He’s been studying voting patterns and elections for nearly 20 years. He explains why vote by mail ballots aren’t always counted.

“It could be simple things like not putting postage on or the ballot not getting back to the supervisor of elections by 7 p.m. on Election Day because of the postal service or that you have a problem with their signature.”

That signature is the reasons ballot rejection rates mainly burden young and minority voters. If it’s not the one on file, the ballot is likely to be tossed out.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it has to match what’s on the record at the supervisor’s office,” Smith said.

Young voters are especially at risk for a faulty signature. Voters ages 18-29 might not be familiar with their signature. Cursive isn’t taught in schools anymore. When teens register to vote at 16, their signature might have significantly changed by the time they reach the legal voting age.

For black and Hispanic voters, signature matching can also be an issue.

“Having apostrophes or hyphens in [names] or having a surname if you’re Spanish that your mother’s maiden name that you use every day but isn’t on your voter registration form.”

When a ballot is requested either online or over the phone, it gets sent to the voter. No need for an excuse like in some states. Vote by mail is especially important for students studying away from home, senior citizens, and military service members abroad. Once the voter receives the ballot, they fill it out, close the envelope and then sign it.

The ballot has to get to the office before the polls close on Election Day, or 7 p.m. Once the elections office has it, they take a look at the signature on the envelope.

David Stafford is the supervisor of elections for Escambia County. He says the signature goes under scrutiny to ensure it is, in fact, the signature of the voter, and not someone else’s.

“Ultimately the signature is used to verify the security of the ballot to have some reasonable assurance that the person who signed the envelope is the person who is registered to vote under that name,” Stafford said. “Each ballot that comes back the envelope is viewed next to the voter’s signature on file and if it’s significantly different it goes to the canvassing board.”

The canvassing board is the three-member panel that looks at all the evidence and determines whether that signature really belongs to the individual or not.

And if the signature doesn’t match the one on file, voters have an opportunity to fix it. This is known as “curing” a ballot. Once the canvassing board finds a faulty signature, they send an affidavit to the voter asking them to return it with their current signature and voter identification. That affidavit has to make it back to the elections office on the Monday before Election Day.

For Florida voters choosing to mail in their ballot, Smith says they can help give the supervisor of elections enough time on the front end to verify the signature if necessary.

“When you receive your ballot make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get that back to the supervisor’s office.”

In the 2016 election, Florida counties overall rejected one percent of all mail-in ballots or more than 27,000 votes. In a swing state like Florida, even a small percentage could determine the outcome of an election.

“If we’re talking about 20 or 30,000 ballots, that could be the difference in a close election,” Smith said.

Voters can update their signature with the supervisor of elections of Escambia as late as this Tuesday.