After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in February 2018, many students in Parkland, Florida have been fighting for common sense gun laws—and one of the main ways they’ve done so is by encouraging other young people to vote. But according to new findings reported by the Washington Post, young Parkland voters’ mail-in ballots were rejected at unusually high rates during the 2018 midterms.
The Post reports that Daniel Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Florida, recently discovered that 15% of Parkland voters between 18 and 21 who submitted mail-in ballots for the midterms had their ballots rejected. Across the entire state of Florida, about 5.4% of college-age voters had their mail-in ballots rejected…meaning that young people from Parkland were far more likely to not have their votes count in the election. Smith’s findings were based on an analysis of the state’s open-source voting file.
The reason behind this higher rejection rate is not currently clear. The Post notes that more than 50% of rejected ballots in Broward County (which includes Parkland) were reportedly turned away because they arrived after election day. Other reasons listed included unsigned ballots, ballots that were signed by someone else other than the voter, and ballots that were returned to the election office as “undeliverable.”
The Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office told the Post that according to its records, young voters in the county had their ballots rejected at a rate that was half of what Smith found.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the mail-in voting system in Florida is stricter than in many other states. The Sentinel notes that, in Florida, ballots must be received by voting day in order to be counted, while in a number of other states ballots only have to be postmarked by voting day to be included in the final tally. Additionally, the deadline to notify Floridians that their ballots were rejected was just one day before ballots were due—giving voters almost no time to resubmit. On top of all this, a September 2018 report from the Florida chapter of the ACLU found that young people and people of color were more likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected than older and white voters.
While we can’t be certain whether this was an instance of intentional voter suppression, one thing is clear: Something needs to change when it comes to Florida’s mail-in voting system. Exercising one’s right to vote shouldn’t be this hard.