Election '18

Federal judge rebukes Florida GOP by letting 4,000 disenfranchised voters cure their ballots

Affected voters have until Saturday at 5 p.m. ET to get their votes counted.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

On Thursday, a federal judge in Florida issued a ruling that extends the deadline for 4,000 voters whose ballots were invalidated due to a "signature mismatch" to correct the error and have their ballots counted.

Tallahassee-based District Judge Mark Walker noted that voters must be given a fair chance of correcting their ballots, and most of these voters were not informed of the signature mismatch until it was too late for them to correct it — a violation of their rights. Voters whose mail-in ballots were voided because their signature did not match the one on file now have until 5 p.m. ET on Saturday to contact election officials and get their votes counted.

The is a partial victory for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is narrowly trailing Gov. Rick Scott by fewer than 13,000 votes with a recount pending. Nelson had wanted the court to order all of the ballots counted automatically without any action required from voters, which Walker was not willing to authorize.

Nonetheless, the decision is also a defeat for the GOP, who had wanted all of the ballots summarily thrown out. Scott immediately announced his intention to appeal the decision to the Eleventh Circuit, calling it "baseless."

Scott, while still the favorite to win, is in a full-blown panic about both the finalization of ballots and the state-mandated recount. He sent state law enforcement to monitor the elections under the guise of investigating voter fraud, which officials failed to find evidence of. He also moved to impound voting machines in Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach Counties, which a state judge blocked him from doing.

The practice of verifying mail-in ballots by eyeballing signatures is unreliable and biased, as people's signatures change over time, but it is generally an acceptable practice — as long as rejected voters have notice and a chance to cure their ballot. The use of this method has also come under fire in the Georgia gubernatorial election.

The addition of these 4,000 ballots will not be enough to sway the outcome of the Senate race on their own, especially considering some of those 4,000 voters may not take action and cure their ballots. But with a recount pending and several other problems unresolved, every single vote will matter.

Other statewide elections that require a recount are the gubernatorial election, where Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum trails former GOP congressman Ron DeSantis by 33,000 votes, and the race for agriculture commissioner, where Democratic medical marijuana lobbyist Nikki Fried leads GOP state Rep. Matt Caldwell by just under 3,000 votes.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.