Spurred by unusually high vote-by-mail turnouts in south county neighborhoods in both the March and August elections in 2016, Palm Beach Post reporters went door to door and talked to dozens of voters to find out why.
Many residents could not say whom they voted for. They said they were directed how to vote by candidates and campaign workers, who casually came into their homes and were fixtures in the neighborhoods during the campaign. Many of the voters were Haitian-American and spoke Creole. Some spoke only halting English.
The work started with analysis of voter file information by data reporters Justin Price and Mike Stucka. Under public records law, Florida provides the voting record of every registered voter. It includes the voter’s address and the method the voter used to vote, not just in the most recent election but in elections dating back years. The reporters built maps that showed where absentee ballots were used the most.
The maps pointed to the long, narrow, overlapping districts of state Rep. Al Jacquet and County Commissioner Mack Bernard, who both won Aug. 30 Democratic primary races with high proportions of mail-in votes.
Over two months, Boynton Beach reporter Alexandra Seltzer, Delray Beach reporter Lulu Ramadan, investigative reporter Lawrence Mower and Price knocked on more than 150 doors. While they found the highest concentrations of absentee voters in Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, they also visited voters in other parts of the district, including West Palm Beach, Lake Park and Riviera Beach.
To overcome the language barrier in many homes, The Post hired a court-certified interpreter of Creole.
Aside from voters, reporters spoke with election law experts, elections supervisors, campaign consultants, prosecutors, politicians and university professors. They studied state statutes and reviewed past rulings. They sought interviews with Jacquet and Bernard, who demanded questions in writing but did not answer any of them.