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Are mail ballots the new hanging chads?

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Of the 2.5 million mail ballots already returned, 12,000 can’t be counted until signature problems are fixed.

Three million mail ballots remain outstanding, and problems with mail ballots may well be the source of lawsuits challenging this year’s election results.

In 2000, George Bush’s top legal advisor, James Baker, had never heard of a hanging chad until Capitol News Service told him about the scrap of paper dangling from punch-card ballots.

“You’re the first person that has mentioned that to me, and that, of course, will be the subject of review,” Baker said in a 2000 interview.

Barry Richard was Bush’s lawyer in Florida.

“I don’t expect a repeat. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a delay for new reasons,” Richard said.

Mail ballots could be the hanging chads of 2020, as 12,000 have already been flagged for problems.

“We have thousands of ballots that are coming in with no signature on the return envelope,” said University of Florida political scientist Dr. Daniel Smith.

The difference between hanging chads and mail ballots is that with hanging chads, voters never really knew if their ballot was counted. With mail ballots, voters get a second chance. Under state law, supervisors must contact voters whose ballots have been flagged. The later a ballot is flagged, the more likely it won’t be counted.

“If someone waits until the last minute to turn in their mail ballot, and there’s a problem, it’s going to be more difficult to cure,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley.

Smith’s studies show it’s not just first-time voters who have problems.

“If you are an experienced Republican voter and you are voting by mail and you are doing so for the first time, you’re twice as likely to have your mail ballot rejected for a missing or mismatched signature,” Smith said. “You know, it’s like riding a bicycle then hopping on a Harley and thinking you are going to have great success.”

In the August primary, more than 33,000 mail ballots were not counted.

So far this year, more than 5 million mail ballots have been requested compared to the 2.7 million cast in 2016.