Ronni Isenberg was at her school in Syracuse University when her former neighbor gunned down 17 people in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Isenberg knew she had to take action, and she would do so by advocating for tougher gun laws. A month after the shooting, Isenberg flew to Washington to join the March for Our Lives, which was organized by other Parkland students. She registered to vote in Florida and encouraged her Syracuse friends to do so as well.
Yet, Isenberg discovered that her vote, along with the votes of dozens of Parkland students, was likely never counted, according to The Washington Post. Approximately 1 in 7 mail-in ballots from college-aged voters in Parkland were either rejected or didn’t arrive in time to be counted.
“We wanted to make a change and vote for change,” Isenberg said. “I should have had the right to vote, and my vote should have been counted.”
The problem with the ballots was discovered by Daniel A. Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Florida. Smith analyzed the open-source voting file and said that 15 percent of mail-in ballots submitted by Parkland residents between the ages of 18 and 21 were not counted, “far exceeding the statewide average.”
In Florida as a whole, 5.4 percent of mail-in ballots for voters between the ages of 18 and 21 were rejected or uncounted.
“If you are voting in Florida, and you are young in Florida, you have a good chance of your ballot not being accepted,” Smith said. “Imagine going to the ATM, and every 10 times you go, instead of spitting out your money, they take it or they lose it.”
A Broward County Supervisor of Elections spokesman said he couldn’t comment on the findings “unless and until” the data was reviewed by the office.
Yet, the election office found that the rejection rate countrywide for voters 18 to 21 was “half” of the 10 percent Smith found. Regardless of age, the rejection rate was 2.8 percent nation wide. Over half of those ballots weren’t accepted because they arrived late. Other ballots couldn’t be counted because they weren’t signed, had a mismatched signature, were signed by someone who wasn’t the voter, or was “undeliverable.”
In September, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a report concluding that Florida’s vote-by-mail system disenfranchised both young voters and racial and ethnic minorities.
In Parkland, Smith theorized that many young people pre register before they turn 18 and their signatures evolve.
“Many of those students go off to college, develop a new identity, including some more sophisticated signatures,” Smith said. “Their new signature may not look anything like it did in high school civics class.”
Approximately 250 Parkland residents 18 to 21 years old registered to vote between February 2018, when the school shooting occurred, and election day. Over half of those registered voted.
State and local election offices are being blamed for the ballot rejections. Luciany Capra, 19 years old, requested an absentee ballot and never received it. When she called to complain, they sent her another one. It arrived on election day.
Reagan Edgren, 19, said that the Broward election board was likely too overwhelmed to correctly handle the ballots. Her mail-in ballot was not received until almost two weeks after the election, although she is sure she mailed it before Election Day.
“They kept telling us that voting is going to be the way we can make a change,” Edgren said. “But when they don’t allow our votes to be counted, they are essentially saying we don’t get a voice.”