Losing by Five, With 1,400 Votes Rejected

WSJ  By  Editorial Board, 

The headlines say a House election in Florida has been won by a mere five votes, 11,662 to 11,657, which is a remarkable piece of news. But here’s what those reports are missing: Nearly 1,400 mail ballots were thrown out for one reason or another. If this isn’t a warning about the perils of trusting your vote to the postman, it’s hard to know what would be.

The Nov. 2 election was a primary in the 20th Congressional District, a safe Democratic seat formerly held by Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died in April at age 84. After recounts and the typical arguing over some disputed ballots, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was certified last week as the Democratic nominee with a five-vote victory. She will almost certainly prevail in the January special election.

Yet what a mess: 1,253 mail votes were tossed for missing the Election Day deadline, according to staff at Broward and Palm Beach counties. Of those, 294 were postmarked before Election Day, meaning these voters probably assumed they’d done everything right. Another 708 had missing or illegible postmarks, so there’s no way to know when they were mailed. That’s an alarming failure rate for the U.S. Postal Service.

In addition to the tardy ballots, 140 mail votes were rejected for other reasons, county staff say. Forty of them were unsigned. Seventy-eight signatures were mismatched or otherwise faulty. A dozen and a half were ballots for the wrong precinct or wrong party, since Florida has closed primaries for registered partisans only.

The result is an ambiguous hash: In an election decided by five votes, who knows what another 1,400 might have done? The second-place candidate at one point said he was considering his legal options, and he probably regrets not urging his supporters to vote in person.

This is a real problem with widespread mail voting, and it isn’t getting enough attention. One screwy primary in a safe House district isn’t a threat to the republic, but George W. Bush won Florida—and thus the White House in 2000—by 537 votes. The federal Election Assistance Commission reports that, during the voting in November 2020, Florida rejected 13,919 mail ballots. The figure for Michigan is 20,480, and 34,171 for Pennsylvania.

The Democratic answer is for states to change their laws so that mail votes will be valid long after Election Day. Under H.R.1, the bill the House passed in March to take over voting rules, mail ballots would be valid for 10 days after the fact, provided they were either postmarked on time or “signed by the voter on or before the date of the election.”

Letting the counting drag on that long would be corrosive to public trust. Look no further than former President Trump’s wild fraud claims about 2020, which were aided by the muddled information coming out of laggard states like Pennsylvania. Clearly the USPS’s postmarks are not a reliable fail-safe, and unpostmarked ballots are open to charges of backdating. States should stick to clear Election Day deadlines.

A better solution to these problems is simply to get back to pre-Covid normalcy. If you’re sick or out of town during the voting period, by all means get a mail ballot and send it in early, or drop it off yourself. If not, then we should see you at the polling place, where messy handwriting and postal oversights won’t stand in the way of your vote being counted.



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