The pandemic has changed just about everything we typically do. That includes, for millions, voting. From South Florida to Hawaii, requests for mail-in ballots are at record levels. It’s understandable that many voters, especially those at higher risk to COVID-19, would prefer to vote by mail as opposed to standing in line to vote in person this year. That being said, it’s not without its own potential consequences. Most notably, ensuring your vote is counted.
To the extent voting by mail has been critically discussed recently, the focus has been on the potential for increased voter fraud. This is a legitimate concern as the most common form of successfully performed voter fraud in Florida and across the country over the past decade has involved absentee ballots. But that’s not the only concern. Voting by mail carries the highest risk of your vote not being counted. A 2018 study by the ACLU of Floridians voting by mail found that mail ballots have had a higher rejection rate than votes cast at assigned precincts on Election Day and at Early Voting sites. Also, younger and racial and ethnic minority voters were much more likely to have their VBM ballots rejected and less likely to have their VBM ballots cured when they are flagged for a signature problem. Lastly, Florida voters were more likely to have their vote tabulated and validated if they cast their ballot in person at an Early Voting site or at their assigned Election Day polling location.
We’ve averaged 26,000 votes by mail not being tabulated per federal election in Florida over the past decade. That’s a margin that exceeded the margins of victory for Nikki Fried and Rick Scott in 2018. It’s also likely to grow along with an increase in voting by mail. All in, a vote is ten times more likely not to be counted if it’s received in the mail.
The prominent reasons why mail ballots are rejected include voters not signing the ballot envelope or that the voter’s signature on the envelope doesn't match the voter’s signature on file. Additionally, if we vote in person, there’s someone to guide us and to help us if we do make a mistake or if there are issues. For these reasons, it’s best to vote in-person. Health concerns are important concerns, so if you deem it necessary to vote-by-mail during the pandemic, it’s understandable. However, where possible, it remains best to vote at the booth.
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