|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|May 7, 2019
|Deutch, Hastings Introduce Bill to Protect Voters from Signature Mismatch after Fort Lauderdale Field Hearing
(Washington) Today, Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-22) and Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) introduced the Protecting American Votes Act to bolster due process protections for voters who vote-by-mail or use provisional ballots.
The bill was introduced one day after the Committee on House Administration Elections Subcommittee held an important field hearing in Fort Lauderdale to highlight attacks on the voting rights of Floridians and the need for election administration reforms to ensure that every eligible voter has their vote counted and their voice heard. The hearing raised alarming issues related to the 2018 midterm election, including unconstitutional rejection of vote-by-mail ballots, faulty ballot design, denying voters Spanish-language sample ballots, misinformation about polling places, and recount court battles.
Problems with the election disproportionately impacted young voters from Parkland, Florida who sent their ballots to demand action to prevent gun violence after the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Analysis by University of Florida Professor Daniel A. Smith found that an astonishing 15 percent of vote-by-mail ballots sent in by Parkland voters age 18 to 21 were rejected, nearly three times the 5.4 percent rejection rate among young voters statewide and far outpacing the 1.2 percent rejection rate among all age groups across Florida.
The Protecting American Votes Act will require elections officials to make two attempts to notify voters when their ballots are rejected based on a signature mismatch—by mail in addition to either text, phone, or e-mail. It will also require states to provide at least ten days from the date of notice to cure the mismatch to verify their identity and ensure their vote is counted. Officials who review signatures will also be required to participate in formal training and provide a report to Congress detailing the number of ballots that are rejected and description of the notification and cure process the state uses to protect voters. These reforms reflect several of the changes the Florida legislature included in SB 7066 to reform its election laws.
"Unfortunately, Florida seems to be the place where we learn a lot of hard lessons about our elections. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes again," said Congressman Deutch. "The 2018 midterms made clear we aren’t ready for 2020. From election security, to money in politics, to election administration, we need reforms that will make it easier to vote and protect the voting rights of all Americans. I’m proud to work with Congressman Hastings to ensure that we count every vote."
“Given that voting is sacred and fundamental to the health of our democracy, the rejection of any legally cast ballot is extremely disturbing. Yet, across our country, and in particular, in my home state of Florida, voters have been denied their right to vote because of penmanship. To make matters worse, election officials did not even tell the affected voters that their ballot was rejected. The Protecting American Votes Act would protect voters’ due process rights when it comes to signature matching laws by requiring proper notice and an opportunity to cure a rejected ballot. We must ensure that elections are free, fair, and unobstructed, so that every vote is counted, and every voice heard. This is why I am pleased to join my friend and colleague, Congressman Ted Deutch, in overhauling these ridiculous barriers to voting,” said Congressman Alcee L. Hastings.
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