TAMPA, Fla. - More voters are casting ballots by mail so far in this month’s primary and a University of Florida poll shows more than 60-percent plan to vote by mail in the November election. But we‘re getting a lot of questions about the process and concerns about security.
There are a lot of misconceptions about voting by mail. Because of the swirl of confusion and assertions on social media, here are three facts that often get lost:
- There is no widespread voter fraud in Florida (or elsewhere in the United States)
- No unsolicited ballots are mailed in Florida
- Florida does not offer ‘absentee’ ballots. All are considered ‘vote by mail’
Absentee ballots were phased out in Florida years ago. Going all the way back to 2002 under Republican leadership, Florida got rid of the ‘absentee’ requirements, to encourage more people to vote by mail.
As such, you don’t need to be out of town or have any other excuse to vote by mail early, and it’s been that way for 18 years.
In 2016, the state changed the statues to clarify this point, and make sure there is no confusion about the fact that absentee ballots no longer exist -- they’re all “voted by mail” -- with no excuse needed to take advantage of it.
Another common comment we receive is that “There is a big difference from requesting an absentee ballot and a massive mail out of ballots to every voter.”
Yes, those things are different. But Florida does not do either one of them.
Absentee ballots were phased out years ago in favor of vote-by-mail for all who request it. And in Florida, you have to specifically request a mail-in order to receive one -- which means there is a paper trail -- and no randomly mailing everyone a ballot.
Election supervisors do encourage you to request a ballot by mail, especially with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“The one thing that’s going to happen with in-person voting is it’s going to be slower. We’re going to be social distancing,” explained Hillsborough’s supervisor of elections, Craig Latimer.
While counties have gone to great lengths to step up health and safety measures at the polls, the social distancing requirements and enhanced cleaning will make it take longer to vote on election day. And Florida wants to prevent the long lines like we’ve already seen this year in Georgia and Wisconsin.
More people voting by mail can help prevent that, so election managers advice you to request mail-in ballots for the November election now if you had not already requested one.
“One third of the state uses the same vendor. The printers are going to be stressed to the max,” warned former Leon County supervisor of elections Ion Sancho. “They need to individuals to put themselves on the mail-in ballot list ASAP.”
It’s too late to request a mail ballot for the August 18 primary; that deadline just passed. You can request a mail ballot for November by phone or at an election office, or easily online.
Each county’s supervisor of elections website has a link to request a mail ballot. You can then choose which election you want a mail ballot for, or you can choose all elections through the next two general elections.
Our investigations and many other show it has a strong track record of security.
Integrity Florida, a watchdog group that digs into state policies and procedures to look for problems and potential issues, just gave Florida’s vote-by-mail system high marks.
“Overall, the report finds Florida should be able to conduct a safe and reliable election with a robust vote-by-mail program,” the group’s research director, Ben Wilcox, explained.
Integrity Florida’s 38-page investigation found cases of fraud with mail ballots are exceedingly rare. It noted a study of all ‘known voter fraud cases identified 491 instances out of billions of votes cast.
Integrity Florida’s findings are in line with similar investigations across the nation.
"There are a huge number of checks in place to make sure that attempts at fraud will not succeed,” offered Jake Laperruque of the Project on Government Oversight.
One of those checks is matching the signature you send with your mail ballot to the one on file with your county elections office. If the signatures don’t match, your vote will likely be thrown out.
This also rarely happens, but Integrity Florida found it’s more likely to affect some voters more than others.
“Research indicates younger people, first-time voters, and the disabled face greater risk to have their ballots rejected due to mismatching signatures or other defects,” Wilcox noted.
RELATED: FACT CHECK: Trump’s view of flawed voting is baseless
Florida has a lot of problems with elections, including some doozies just two years ago. But most of the problems were confined to two counties -- Broward and Palm Beach -- which have since changed management.
And while Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much of anything, they do agree with the president when it comes to voting in Florida. They all say voting by mail is safe and secure.