Disparity in Rejections of Vote by Mail Ballots Could Play Role in Election

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The vote by mail ballots are flowing into Florida elections offices in huge numbers, but how many of the vote by mail ballots eventually will be tossed out?

Experts say that across Florida there’s a big difference when it comes to the rejection rates for the vote by mail ballots, and the data shows South Florida is near the top when it comes to having those ballots rejected.

On Friday in Miami-Dade and Broward, 633,000 of the vote by mail ballots had already come back. Election clerks were trying to stay ahead of the onslaught of mail in ballots showing up.

One place elections teams across the state are looking to for guidance is Pinellas County. Fewer voters have their mail ballots rejected there than almost any of the 67 counties in the state. Pinellas takes in west Tampa and with a population of one million it started a decade ago in pushing vote by mail.

Julie Marcus is the Supervisor of Elections in Pinellas, where 400,000 voters requested vote by mail ballots for this election.

“Of course, we didn’t realize we were preparing for a pandemic when it came to voters choosing to vote by mail," Marcus said during a Zoom call.

The county's rate of ballots tossed out in 2018 was next to nothing, 0.2%.

"Even though our rejection rates are very low, having to reject one ballot, you know we don’t want that," Marcus said.

Data from a University of Florida study examining the 2018 elections showed rejection rates for Broward at 2.7%, Monroe at 2.6%, Miami-Dade at 2.3%, and Pinellas well below.

Marcus said they did it by constantly trying to make vote by mail easy to understand.

“So, if you are going to vote by mail what are the deadlines? What are the signature requirements? How do you mark your ballot properly? So there are all these different things you want to make sure you are educating voters on if you are choosing to vote by mail,” Marcus said. "When we create our envelopes prior to every election we reevaluate how can we make this easier, what can we do to make it very clear that the voter must sign."

Miami-Dade’s League of Women Voters said that the make up of South Florida makes it tougher to get such low rejection rates.

"There are so many demographic differences that can account for that," President Monica Skoko-Rodriguez said. "We know that first time voters have a harder time with and experience rejections unfortunately. Miami Dade is a younger county and it also is a Mecca for immigration."

When there is trouble with a ballot, Miami-Dade and Broward are doing what Marcus does.

"So, anything we can do to fix a situation. We would contact voters by phone. We would email voters if we had that information. You can now cure that ballot," Marcus said. "That’s now Florida law."

Miami-Dade was able to cut its rejection rate in the August primary to 1.4%. If these numbers hold for South Florida about 20,000 votes could be tossed out. In 2018, the race between Sen. Bill Nelson and Rick Scott was decided by 10,000 votes and that was state-wide.

The 2018 study also found that minorities, first time voters, and military voters had their vote by mail ballots tossed out more frequently.

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