A disproportionate number of vote-by-mail ballots cast by Blacks and Hispanics in South Florida are being flagged for errors by election officials, an analysis shows.
In Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties, the rate of ballot rejections for Black voters is almost twice as high as for white voters, according to an analysis of state data by America Votes Florida, a progressive nonprofit. For Hispanic voters, it’s more than double.
A total of 1,132,084 votes by mail have been cast in the three counties as of Thursday. Some 7,505 ballots have been flagged for errors such as missing signatures or signatures that don’t match those on file.
Flagged ballots can be fixed, but only 3,965 flagged ballots had been fixed so far. Flagged ballots that are not fixed by the Nov. 5 deadline are thrown out.
Election officials reach out to voters with flagged ballots, but the disparity in flagging has the effect, some election experts and advocates say, of suppressing minority votes.
“That’s not a coincidence,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “When there is a clear pattern, you should take it as a pattern,”
It’s not the first time the dynamic has been observed.
Dr. Daniel Smith, chair of department of political science at the University of Florida, authored a 2018 report for the ACLU that found similar patterns of racially differentiated vote-by-mail rejections in the 2012 and 2016 Florida presidential elections.
“Younger and racial and ethnic minority voters were much more likely to have their vote-by-mail ballots rejected and less likely to have their vote-by-mail ballots cured when they are flagged for a signature problem,” he wrote in the report.
In Miami-Dade County, 1.63% of all mail-in ballots by Black have been flagged, compared with 1.2% of ballots from Hispanics and 1.05% of ballots by whites.
Miami-Dade also has the highest number of flagged ballots of all three counties. A total of 5,304 have been flagged, and only 2,646 have been cured.
Blacks make up about 17% percent of the population of Miami-Dade county.
In Broward, 0.15% of mail-in ballots cast by Blacks have been flagged, as opposed to 0.13% of ballots from Hispanics and 0.12% of ballots from whites. A total of 490 ballots have been flagged, and 148 have been cured. 389,567 mail in ballots have been cast in the county.
In Palm Beach County, 0.72% of mail-in ballots cast by Blacks have been flagged, 0.68% of Hispanic ballots, and only 0.46% of ballots from whites. Some 1,711 ballots have been flagged, and 1,171 have been cured.
Phillip Gerez, of the Coalition for Black and Brown Ballot Access, is working to make sure that voters whose ballots are flagged get them cured.
“The average voter, even if you give election officials your phone number and your email, you might miss it," he said. "I might not pick up that phone call, I might miss the email for some reason. "
Sahil Mehrotra, spokesperson for America Votes, which provided the data, says his organization is also working to ensure that ballots get cured.
“Our partners are contacting voters who might have an issue with their ballot every day to let them know how to fix it, in an effort to make sure every vote counts.”
Mehrotra also noted racial disparities in the rates of people who get their ballots cured. The current cure rate of ballots across Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade is 43.7% among Black voters, 48.4% for Hispanic voters and 65.67% among white voters.
Gerez stressed that time has run out for ballots in Florida to be mailed back to elections officials in time for the election, meaning that voters with vote-by-mail ballots must now physically turn them in. He warned that if ballots dropped off during the weekend before the election are flagged, voters may have two or three days to fix them before the deadline.
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