Former students of Trish Everett’s senior-level Government and Politics class at Pine Crest School in Broward say their teacher taught them the importance of civic engagement. They were excited to vote. For many, this midterm election would have been their first time exercising their democratic rights. But there were problems: Their absentee ballots never arrived, or came so late they wouldn’t be able to send them back in time.
“I first applied for an absentee ballot about two months ago,” said Gabrielle Meli, a freshman at Cornell University, who said the Broward Elections Department repeatedly denied she had applied for the ballot. (Meli said she received three emails confirming her application.)
After following up with the department several times in October, Meli reached out to her former teacher who tried to help her get a ballot, she said. Others in her class at the private preparatory school had done the same, and the former classmates realized their experiences may be part of a larger problem.
“So many of my peers from high school never received their ballots and they had very similar issues to me,” Meli said. “Many of them had their parents go and physically pick up the ballot and mail it to them because the office of elections was simply not doing its job.”
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Through tips from ProPublica’s Electionland, the Miami Herald received the names of six of Meli’s peers — Everett’s former students who went to college out of state— who never received their absentee ballots, or received them only within the last few days, too late to mail the ballots back in time for their vote to count.
“I don’t know anyone my age who didn’t go out to vote. And most of us requested absentee ballots,” said Brittany Shore, a 19-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania and one of Everett’s former students. “We wanted our voice to be heard in our home state.”
But Shore said the ballot she requested a month ago did not arrive until last Friday to her parents’ Fort Lauderdale home. Even if they overnighted it, Shore’s ballot would not make it back to the Broward elections office in time to be counted. “It was just very disappointing as a first-time voter not to be able to vote in this election,” she said.
Meli said her ballot arrived Monday, Nov. 5, even though she had applied for it nearly two months earlier. She mailed it back right away, but it was not going to arrive before the 7 p.m. deadline Tuesday, so it won’t count.
J.C. Planas, longtime election lawyer and a former Republican state lawmaker, said he typically expects a mail-in ballot to leave the elections office within five days of a request. The mail itself should take another day. “It depends on how many other requests come in,” Planas said. In other words, the process of requesting and receiving a mail ballot should take a little more than a week.
The supervisor of elections at the Broward Elections Department, Brenda Snipes, would not provide information on how many complaints the department had received about late or missing mail-in ballots. “We’ve had some people call in,” she said, before telling the reporter she had another meeting and cutting off the interview.
By Nov. 4, Broward elections reported counting 168,951 mail ballots, far more than the 100,000 Snipes told the Herald she hoped would be returned.
The problem of absentee ballots not arriving to Broward voters is not isolated to Everett’s former students, said Benjamin Bennett, a former Broward elections inspector who quit in frustration.
On the first day of early voting, 1,263 people voted at Coral Ridge Mall where he checked IDs and walked people to the booths. “About 100 to 150 questioned myself and others as to what happened to their absentee ballot,” Bennett said. “They were extremely upset and they wanted to know why. All we could do was to give them a card and tell them to call” the supervisor of elections.
Bennett said it was the same every day — people showing up to vote because they never received their mail-in ballot.
John Barlow Clark, 37, said he didn’t receive an absentee ballot from the Broward elections office either. He thought the problem might be his mailing address, which he said he confirmed with the elections department a month ago. It still hasn’t showed up, he said Tuesday.
“What happened to their ballots?” Bennett asked. He said he never got an answer. “This is consistent. It happens every election. Every election there is a snafu of some type every time.”
This story is part of a journalism collaboration with ProPublica’s Electionland, a project that monitors voting problems across the country.