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Report: Missing Absentee Ballots In South Florida Affect Young People, Democrats

Associated Press

Floridians will vote in future elections under the shadow of this year’s recount drama.


One of the biggest concerns was whether vote-by-mail ballots had arrived on time to be counted. They only count if elections supervisors get them before polls close on Election Day, according to state law.


In South Florida, hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were mailed out but didn’t make it back.

Tony Doris has been covering the issue for the Palm Beach Post. He spoke with WLRN’s Alexander Gonzalez.

WLRN: What happened with all these missing absentee ballots?

TONY DORIS: I got a call from my son in Boston who said he'd mailed in for his absentee ballot, and they hadn't returned it to him until a couple of days before the election. So too late to vote. 

I wondered if that was a thing. He and my daughter, who are both in their 20s, went on Facebook, and it turns out a lot of their friends had the same problem. They're college students studying out of state and mailed away asking for absentee ballots in plenty of time — except the ballots didn't get to them until too late.

 So some people were flying back to Florida in order to vote. Some were just giving up and others were spending $20 to $50 to FedEx things to get their ballots in on time. 

A big problem with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties is not mailing out ballots early enough. In these days, when Amazon can send you your new pair of Crocs in a day or two, it turns out that Florida can't do the same with absentee ballots.

What have you heard from supervisors of elections? Are they addressing this?

They've been too busy up till now with all the recounts in order to call me back. But I do have their data, which indicate that they were sending out ballots after it was illegal to do so. It was so late in the game. There's a law that says they can only send out absentee ballots to people by Oct. 31 or six days before an election. In this case, they were still mailing them after that. Which means even if you get your ballot in the mail, it's too late to mail it back in.

The data also speak for the supervisors of elections because what they show is that in those three South Florida counties, 174,000 Democrats who were mailed out ballots didn't get them back in. Now a lot of that is low turnout, but a lot of people in that demographic are young people who would tend to vote Democratic. 

It means the results of the election could very well have been affected.

In some cases people have requested these ballots way in advance. The problem doesn't fall entirely on the voters, right?

 You're tempted to say, well, why didn't they mail them in on time? But they are mailing them in on what you would think would be a reasonable amount of time. 

Allison Garcia is a senior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. She's from Miami-Dade County. She mailed a ballot request to Miami-Dade’s supervisor of elections. That's exactly what you're supposed to do. She mailed it in late August or early September — shortly after she voted in the primaries. She didn’t get her ballot until Nov. 5 and the election was Nov. 6. 

What's she supposed to do? You can go online and check to see if they mailed out your ballot, and so on Oct. 28, she went and checked. It said they sent your ballot out Oct. 31. Well, guess what? It wasn't Oct. 31st yet! So she felt it was ridiculous and a little discouraging. Next time, she said, she’s just going to vote in person.

What are some proposed solutions? How can this be remedied?

The state law needs to be changed so that it says, as long as you get your ballot postmarked by Election Day, it's O.K. if it arrives up to 10 days after the election. We count overseas and military ballots at that point anyway. Why can't we do it with absentee ballots?

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
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