Floridians Whose Absentee Ballots Never Arrived Crowdfund Flights Home to Vote

Kate Jacobson had already picked out her seats and keyed in her credit card number for a last-minute flight to Fort Lauderdale when she decided to check the mailbox one last time. For weeks she’d been waiting at it “like a lovestruck teen,” but her absentee ballot was a no-show — even though she requested it from the Broward Supervisor of Elections in August.

Now, the day before the election, she’d decided her vote was worth the price of a plane ticket from Los Angeles. And she had found a red-eye on Spirit Airlines that left in three hours. If she didn’t take any bags, she could get it for $350.

Jacobson made the trek to the mailroom and opened her mailbox. There, to her great surprise, was her ballot. She screamed. Then she filled it out and overnighted it via FedEx. Voting for Hillary Clinton set Jacobson back $41.51 — and seriously undermined her confidence in the Broward Supervisor of Elections.

“I did everything you're supposed to do and more,” says Jacobson, a former Sun Sentinel reporter (and friend of this reporter). “Think about if I hadn't been proactive or if I didn't know to call their office.”

Jacobson's tale had a happy ending, but other Florida voters never received their ballots. And at least a few are turning to the internet to crowfund a flight back home to cast what could be an all-important vote in the swingiest of swing states.

Take, for instance, Areto Imoukhuede, who started a GoFundMe page to raise money to get back to Florida to vote. He says he moved out of state and something went wrong with his address in his absentee ballot request. He's raised $275 — but it's not clear if that's enough to get home to vote today.

Another guy, Lorin Brubaker, says he's stuck in New York City and never got his absentee ballot from the Orlando area. He met his $441 fundraising goal, so presumably he'll jet down this afternoon to cast a ballot. (Notably, Brubaker doesn't say for whom he'll vote.)

Chris Swan, an actor from Manatee County, raised $775 to fly home when his absentee ballot didn’t show, reported the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

It's not clear how many requested absentee ballots never made it to their recipients. Tonya Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Supervisor of Elections, says the office has received about 190,000 of the 200,000 absentee ballots requested and she expects many more to arrive by today’s 7 p.m. deadline.

She offers a couple of reasons a ballot could be delayed: Perhaps the voter entered the incorrect address or didn’t have his or her name on the mailbox. (Neither scenario applied to Jacobson, who made sure the office had her correct address, but Edwards couldn’t immediately explain her specific case.)

“We did our best to make sure that everyone that requested a ballot received it,” she says.

But Jacobson wasn’t the only voter whose absentee ballot was waylaid. Molly Schulson requested hers online in September. When nothing came, she checked online and saw her request marked as canceled, according to a story in the Sun Sentinel. She requested it a second time, and still no ballot.

“That’s when Molly Schulson’s dad, Assistant State Attorney David Schulson, decided to intervene,” the newspaper reported. “He called the elections office and was told there was no indication in the computer system that his daughter had ever requested a ballot.”

He submitted a third request, and, finally, the ballot showed up October 26.

Missing absentee ballots haven't been the only problem in Broward so far. The county also sent out an unknown number of ballots that were missing a question regarding Amendment 2, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Jacobson, who moved to California in mid-August to freelance and pursue comedy writing, says she too had to request an absentee ballot three times.

A week after the first one, she called the Supervisor of Elections and found out the office had sent it to her old Fort Lauderdale address. She had to send an affidavit with her new address. Weeks passed, and nothing came. She called again and was assured the ballot had been mailed. But when she checked the status of her request online, it said the ballot hadn’t been mailed after all. So the last week of October, she requested a ballot once more.

Then she began looking at plane tickets.

“I've always felt it's important to vote, but especially so in this election, because I believe in Hillary Clinton,” Jacobson says, "and Trump sucks.”

After she filled in the bubble for Hillary, she noticed Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is up for reelection. She left that one blank.

“She’s running unopposed,” she tells New Times. “Had I known that, I would have run for supervisor of elections.”

Absentee ballots can be turned in until 7 p.m. today. They cannot be accepted at your polling place — only the elections office.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas