Startling ACLU Report: Higher Rejection Rate For Mail-in Ballots

September 19, 2018

In our new report “Vote-By-Mail Ballots Cast in Florida,” we found that vote-by-mail ballots cast in the 2012 and 2016 general election had a higher rejection rate than votes cast at assigned precincts on Election Day and at early voting sites. We also found that younger voters and racial and ethnic minority voters were much more likely to cast mail ballots that were rejected and were less likely to have their ballots cured.

This report contrasts the rates of rejected vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots in the 2012 and 2016 general elections—statewide broken down by age cohorts and racial and ethnic groups, and across counties.

For Florida to have free and fair elections, all eligible voters must have equal opportunity to vote, including those casting (and curing) VBM ballots.

In addition, drawing on available county-level records, it highlights variations in cure rates of VBM ballots received by Supervisors of Elections in the 2016 general election that initially were deemed invalid because they were contained in return envelopes with mismatched signatures. It finds that younger voters, as well as voters from racial and ethnic minorities, are much more likely to cast VBM ballots that are rejected, and are less likely to cure their VBM ballots if SOE staff flag them for having signature problems.

The report also found that Florida’s counties do not use standardized coding when documenting the reasons for VBM ballots to be initially rejected, processed, or cured.

All voters who choose to VBM should take the extra steps to track their mail ballot and, if there is a problem with the voter’s signature, to use the cure process to ensure that their vote is counted and their voice is heard. If your ballot was rejected because your signature was missing on the return envelope or it does not match the signature on file, you are permitted to mail, fax, email, or hand-deliver to your SOE your signed affidavit, along with a copy of a permissible form of identification. Click here for more step-by-step instructions on how to ensure your vote-by-mail ballot counts. 


Download the report


This report contrasts the rates of rejected vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots in the 2012 and 2016 general elections—statewide broken down by age cohorts and racial and ethnic groups, and across counties. In addition, drawing on available county-level records, it highlights variations in cure rates of VBM ballots received by Supervisors of Elections in the 2016 general election that initially were deemed invalid because they were contained in return envelopes with mismatched signatures. It finds that younger voters, as well as voters from racial and ethnic minorities, are much more likely to cast VBM ballots that are rejected, and are less likely to cure their VBM ballots if SOE staff flag them for having signature problems.

Principal Findings

  • Mail ballots (commonly referred to as “Vote by Mail” or VBM) have had a higher rejection rate than votes cast at assigned precincts on Election Day and at Early Voting sites;
  • There is a lack of uniformity in the Vote by Mail process as well as  procedures to cure invalid ballots across Florida’s 67 counties, leading to considerable variation in rejection rates and cure rates by counties;
  • 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;
  • Younger and racial and ethnic minority voters casting VBM ballots were at least twice as likely as older and white voters to have their VBM ballot rejected in the  presidential elections of 2012 and 2016;
  • The likelihood of younger and minority voters casting a mail  ballot that was rejected increased in 2016 compared to 2012 while the rejection rate of VBM ballots cast by white voters decreased;
  • 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.

Policy Recommendations

To ensure that all eligible voters have an equal access to the voting process and to have their vote processed, tabulated, and accepted as valid:

  • There should be greater statewide uniformity in the design of mail ballots and  the return VBM envelope;
  • There should be greater uniformity in the procedures  employed by Supervisors of Elections, their staff, and canvassing boards to process, validate and, if necessary, cure VBM  ballots;
  • The Florida statewide voter history file (the FVRS database) should include information  about why a voter’s mail ballot was rejected, including whether it was rejected because it lacked a signature or the voter’s signature was mismatched, and if the voter attempted to cure the VBM ballot if it was flagged as invalid;
  • The October 17, 2016 Memorandum to Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) from Secretary of State Ken Detzner should be revised to include  specific procedures that county election officials should follow when notifying voters of a  rejected VBM ballot and  the cure process for missing and mismatched signatures;
  • The Florida Division of Elections should study procedures for processing VBM ballots as well as procedures in place for voters to cure an invalid mailed ballot, promoting  “best practices” from those counties with the lowest rejection and highest cure rates;
  • The legislature should create guidelines for how SOEs shall notify voters of their rejected ballot status and how voters can cure their VBM ballot prior to Election Day.

Download the report


Daniel A. Smith is Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Florida. He is the President of ElectionSmith, Inc., and a former Senior Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, West Africa. He has served as an expert witness in numerous voting rights lawsuits in Florida and across the country, working closely with the ACLU, the NAACP, Demos, the Campaign Legal Center, Mi Familia, SEIU, and numerous other voting rights groups. Dr. Smith holds a M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; he went to Penn State for his undergraduate degrees in Political Science and History. Dr. Smith’s research broadly examines how political institutions affect political behavior across and within the American states. In addition to publishing over 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and research reports on voting and elections in the American states, his authored and coauthored books include Tax Crusaders and the Politics of Direct Democracy (Routledge, 1998), Educated by Initiative (University of Michigan Press, 2004), and State and Local Politics: Institutions and Reform (4th edition, Cengage, 2015). He is widely quoted in the Florida and national media.

Election Activists: What Has Gone Wrong In Broward County?

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes 

A group of elections transparency and fairness activists gathered in Hollywood Monday to discuss voter suppression, felony disenfranchisement and election security. But speaker after speaker asked a single question: What has gone wrong with the elections process in Broward County?


Chris Sautter, an elections attorney, first came to Broward to work for Democrat Al Gore during the infamous 2000 election in which 537 South Florida voters decided the presidential election. He said back then that Broward County was one of the only places in the region that seemed to have it together when it came to voting.

“But since I’ve been here there’ve been a whole host of problems,” he told WLRN at the meeting.

Elections transparency activists held a meeting in Hollywood this week. Many focused their attention on the Broward County Supervisor of Elections.

The approximately 50 attendees were mostly local progressives as well as some who had traveled here. They heard tales of voter intimidation in rural Virginia. They oohed and ahhed at a demonstration given by software developer and political consultant Bennie Smith, who discovered elections system vulnerabilities in his hometown Memphis in 2015. Yet the conversation kept coming back to why the event was being held in Broward County.

“Broward County is kind of ground zero in the fight for accountability and verifiability and transparency,” said Sautter.

The most prominent case of something running afoul in recent years was during a contested 2016 primary for Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. Incumbent Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz was facing an insurgent primary challenge by Bernie Sanders-backed Tim Canova, which gained national attention. As the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz faced allegations that she tipped the scales of the Democratic presidential primary to benefit  Hillary Clinton. (She denies this.)

Despite all his zeal, Canova lost the primary by a wide margin. But something felt off, he said. Shortly after the election he filed public records requests with the Broward County supervisor of elections to get access to the paper ballots, which are public records. For months he waited to gain access, but did not receive it. Then, he filed a lawsuit against Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections, an elected official.

Months into the lawsuit, Snipes ordered the destruction of the ballots Canova was requesting to see. He was unable to review the records and was stunned.

“I’ve lost much faith and confidence in the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office to conduct a fair election,” said Canova, who spoke Monday. “It’s undermined my confidence in the election system generally around this country.”

Legal experts maintained that Snipes broke federal and state laws. A Broward judge ruled that Snipes wrongly destroyed records pertaining to a pending lawsuit, which is illegal to do without a court order. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner wrote a letter to Snipes expressing “concern” and asking for an explanation. The state declared it would be monitoring upcoming elections handled by her office.

The election transparency meeting in Hollywood was hosted by non-profit group Americans United for Democracy, Integrity and Transparency in Elections,or AUDIT.

“I think this office is run very well, I do,” said Snipes in a phone call. She said that “many offices have legal actions taken against them” and that the results of any court cases “are what they are.” Previously her attorneys told the Sun Sentinel that they “think the judge is wrong,” and that the records were destroyed because of a mistake, but she declined to rehash the episode.

But problems with the Broward County elections predate Snipes’ tenure. In 2003, her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, was removed from by then-Gov. Jeb Bush for “grave” neglect and mismanagement of the department, culminating in a botched 2002 election. Snipes took over the office following that fall-out and has been re-elected ever since.

Early last month, a judge in the Broward County Circuit Court filed an injunction against Snipes’ office, preventing her from opening mail-in ballots before meeting with the county’s three-member Canvassing Board, which determines the validity of the ballots. The Republican Party sued her office after a controversy in 2016, “when Republican poll watchers complained that Snipes’ staff was opening the ballots in private, thereby making it impossible for citizens or groups to question whether the ballots were properly cast,” Politico reported.

The issue of how mail-in ballots are handled by the office again came up during the Aug. 28 primary election after a late delivery of thousands of ballots by the Supervisor of Elections office left several county races in limbo for days on end.

Snipes said her office is fully prepared for the upcoming elections on November 6.

BREAKING: Wasserman Schultz Denies Role in Ballot Destruction

by Tim Canova

According to POLITICO, Wasserman Schultz’s possible role in the scandal was suggested when the lawyer for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections offered to supply the court with a sworn affidavit from Wasserman Schultz opposing the lawsuit we brought to inspect the ballots. Incredibly, the Supervisor’s offer was made more than two months after the Supervisor had already destroyed the ballots — during which time the Supervisor continued to conceal the ballot destruction from both us and the court.

In destroying the ballots, the Supervisor violated federal and state law, destroyed evidence in an ongoing lawsuit, and concealed all this wrongdoing for months. With the original ballots destroyed, a criminal investigation may be the only way to get to the truth about this election. We contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report these federal crimes, but the FBI has yet to return our calls, even after the Supervisor admitted to her illegal conduct in a videotaped deposition!

Should we believe Wasserman Schultz’s denials of any role in the decision to destroy the ballots? Sadly, there’s no reason to believe her. Let’s not forget that Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign in disgrace as head of the Democratic National Committee for violating the DNC’s own rules for fairness and impartiality in the presidential nomination process — violations that she continually lied about!

To remain silent about all the election frauds that happened in the 2016 primaries only serves to normalize election frauds on an ongoing basis. That’s why we’re demanding a federal criminal investigation of the illegal destruction of our ballots and the immediate suspension of the Broward Supervisor of Elections.

Thank you for all your help and for supporting our efforts for election integrity.

It was our lawsuit against the Supervisor of Elections that first revealed the illegal ballot destruction. Now we need your help to continue with our investigation into this scandal. Please donate what you can and help us reveal the extent of the wrongdoing, including any possible role played by Debbie Wasserman Schultz! Your donations, when combined with thousands of other small donations, are making a huge difference in our efforts to reveal the truth about all this corruption.


Who’s the Real “Spoiler” in Our Race Against Wasserman Schultz?

By Tim Canova 

In early April, I announced I was running as a No Party Affiliation (NPA) candidate — an independent — on the ballot this November against Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a yet-to-be-determined Republican candidate.

Almost immediately, the Schultz team started a whispering campaign that I was now a “spoiler” — that by running “third-party” (which I’m not), I would help elect the Republican. They whisper it will be just like when Ralph Nader supposedly helped elect George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.

This “spoiler” attack is revealing. First, there’s no chance of a Republican winning in a three-way race in this particular district which was specially gerrymandered for Schultz. And second, it shows how worried the Schultz camp is that they can’t possibly win in a three-way race at a time when NPAs almost outnumber Democrats in our district.

Florida’s 23rd Congressional District was gerrymandered for Schultz and it’s been a safe Democratic seat — that is, up until now. But the population has been changing here, as reflected in the demographics of registered voters in the district: 25% Republican, 35% indie, and 40% Democrat.

In 2000, when Bush beat Gore, there was about a one percentage point difference between Democrats and Republicans. In Florida’s 23rd, Republicans are 15 percentage points behind Democrats and 10 percentage points behind NPAs. It’s hard to imagine a Republican taking second in a three-way race in this district, let alone ever winning.

That means Democrats can feel free to vote their conscience, vote for change, and vote against an unpopular incumbent. Among every part of the electorate, including among Democrats, voters agree that the status quo has got to go.

Even while running as an indie, we are maintaining strong support among grassroots Democrats. It’s the party leadership we oppose, the ones who have lost touch with the people. We intend to win among grassroots Democratic voters. And that’s because they know I’m the real “New Deal” Democrat in the race and Schultz is now the embodiment of a corporate-owned Democrat.

In addition, a great many Democrats, including in Florida, will always see Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the real “spoiler” — spoiling the Democratic Party and our democracy.

There’s another big difference between Nader’s 2000 campaign and ours. Nader was running as a Green at a time when only a few percent of the population identified as Green. And while I strongly support the Green agenda and I have the support of many Greens, I’m running as an indie at a time when nearly a plurality of my district now identifies as independent.

And here’s the really great news for us: among Millennials, Gen Xers, and younger voters, about 71% are now indie, and they are the most progressive and fastest growing part of the electorate!

The Schultz camp should worry that they can’t win a 3-way race!

I have one last beef with Schultz’s whispering campaign against me as a Nader-like spoiler. It’s very premise is factually incorrect. In 2000, for every one of the 24,000 Democrats who defected to vote for Ralph Nader in Florida, about 12 times as many Democrats (308,000) voted for Bush. Exit polls in Florida showed that if Nader had not run, Bush would have won the state by even more!

After the 2016 election fiasco — with Hillary Clinton losing to Donald Trump after referring to everyone even thinking of voting for him as “deplorables” — Democrats should have learned to stop shaming and blaming the voters. But vote shaming is what this “spoiler” argument is all about and it’s a losing argument. The present political divide is no longer just Republicans versus Democrats. For most of us, it’s insiders versus outsiders, and corruption versus integrity.

I’m not afraid of a three-way race, I’m not afraid of debates, and I’m not afraid of Schultz and the corrupt machine she serves. We have the people on our side, and that’s because we are of, by, and for the people.

Keep the faith and thank you for all your support!