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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judge who extended vote deadline shifts to mail ballot case

Dr. Daniel Smith found wide variations from county to county in rejection rates of mail ballots with signature problems.

U.S. District Court

Dr. Daniel Smith found wide variations from county to county in rejection rates of mail ballots with signature problems.



The judge who extended Florida's voter registration deadline will tackle a second voting rights case Friday in another lawsuit brought by Democrats, who want the courts to give more protection to mail ballot voters with signature problems.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee is once again racing against the elections clock as he considers whether voters should have a chance to correct a mismatched signature to prevent their votes from being rejected by election supervisors or canvassing boards.

The state and national Democratic parties sued Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Democrats want the judge to declare that everyone who votes by mail be given the same chance to cure a signature defect that voters who neglect to sign the ballot envelope are allowed to do. The challenge is that counties can begin reviewing mail ballots in about 10 days.

In ordering a week-long extension of the voter registration deadline because of Hurricane Matthew. Walker is already on the side of wanting to protect voters' rights ("No right is more precious," he said in his deadline extension order Wednesday).

Among the evidence Walker will consider in the signature case is a report by University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, who was asked by Democrats to analyze all mail ballots rejected in Florida's last presidential election in 2012. He found that about 1 percent of all mail ballots statewide were rejected in 2012, or 23,000 out of about 2.3 million cast; that rejection rates varied widely from county to county; and that in the 11 counties he studied, Democrats were more likely to have their ballots rejected than were Republicans.

The counties Smith studied were Alachua, Broward, Collier, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Leon, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota and Seminole.

"In some counties," Smith wrote, "the number of absentee ballots that had signatures that (supervisors) and canvassing boards determined did not match far exceeded the number of absentee ballots that electors did not sign." Smith singled out heavily-Democratic Alachua and Seminole, a Republican county, where more than 80 percent of the rejected mail ballots were due to signature mismatch problems.

Judge Walker has asked Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho to testify Friday as a court witness on the signature mismatch issue. A full hearing will be held next Tuesday, which also is the last day that people can register to vote for the upcoming election.    

[Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2016 8:50am]


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