Florida ballots not counted, voters' mistakes doomed thousands of votes
Brittany Wallman, Sun Sentinel
1:29 PM, Dec 26, 2012
The election ended on Nov. 6, but more than a month later, ballots were still trickling in.
They won't be counted. They'll go in the stack of ineligible ballots already piled high with those that were missing signatures, or those from voters who showed up in the wrong precinct.
In an election so crucial to voters that many were willing to stand in lines at the polls for hours, hundreds threw their votes away — mostly through simple mistakes.
"That happens every election,'' said Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, "and it really is unfortunate.''
Figures released by elections officials in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties reveal one thing: There are many ways to waste one's vote.
A few thousand votes wouldn't have changed the presidential race this year. But there were other contests in South Florida whose outcome came down to fewer than 50 votes. A Hallandale Beach race was determined by just one vote.
One common mistake made in this year's election: Filling out the ballot, sticking it in the envelope, and then forgetting to sign the envelope. Missing signatures doomed 1,877 ballots to the dead pile in the three counties – the largest number of them in Broward County.
A man in Palm Beach County made the mistake of writing his business address on his provisional ballot envelope, and that mistake cost him his vote.
And then there were the signatures that didn't qualify.
In Broward County, three ballots were nixed because the voters printed their names instead of signing in cursive.
At least 26 in the three counties made the mistake of letting someone else sign the envelope. And at least 674 had signatures on absentee or provisional ballot envelopes that didn't match their official signature on file.
In Broward County, 173 ballots were nixed because the voters had skipped two consecutive election cycles and rendered their registrations inactive.
With the precinct changes that followed redistricting, there were voters who stood in line at the wrong place.
In Broward, 148 voters did that, and their votes weren't counted. In Miami-Dade, 111 voted in the wrong precinct. In Palm, 428 did.
Elections officials said the same mistakes are made each and every election.
"We put a lot of effort into educating the voters,'' said Snipes. "I'm not sure what else we can do.''
But the single biggest mistake voters made was sending the ballot in late.
In the three-county South Florida region, 4,162 voters cast ballots that didn't count because they arrived in elections offices after Nov. 6. They're still arriving. They'll be showing up in the mail for a long time, elections supervisors said.
Palm Beach County, more than 1,000 ballots have been delivered since Election Day.
"We always get them,'' elections Supervisor Susan Bucher said. "We'll get them two years from now. They get hung up in the mail.''
The ballot doesn't have to be a day or more late to be thrown out. One woman in
Palm Beach County arrived at the main elections office to vote after 7 p.m. on Election Day. She voted on a provisional ballot – a ballot whose validity is determined by the county canvassing board after the election. It was thrown out.
On the other end of the spectrum, a ballot just arrived at the Miami-Dade elections office inside a 2004 election envelope. "We all cracked up,'' said Miami-Dade's Rosie Pastrana, deputy supervisor for voter services.
"You have no idea how many times we get ballots from like a year later, for an election,'' she said.
Snipes in Broward said she, too, gets ballots "from the last election,'' a year or more later. So far, since Nov. 6, her office has received 1,084.
Problems with the postal service might have bewitched voters, the elections supervisors said. Broward's mail is no longer processed here and is sent to Opalocka in Miami-Dade County, Snipes noted.
And in Miami-Dade, ballots were arriving from afar.
"We did get a lot of ballots from other states and other counties on a daily basis,'' Pastrana said. "We were getting 100, 150 a day. They said it was a training issue and they would work on it.''
State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who created an elections task force in the wake of this year's poor performance, said the postal issues were felt statewide.
"I know people that mentioned to me that they hadn't yet received their absentee ballot right before the election, and they had requested it earlier,'' she said. "I don't think people make this up.''
Postal service officials said the election problems had nothing to do with them and that they were in regular contact with the South Florida election officials.
"The Postal Service conducted operational reviews to ensure that all election mail, political mail, and absentee ballots were processed and delivered in a timely manner,'' said postal service spokeswoman Lillian Castro."Postal operations continue to run smoothly throughout South Florida. The consolidation of mail processing operations from Fort Lauderdale to Miami has not impacted service."