Florida sees historic surge in voting by mail,
but it has its risks
Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
October 7, 2016
TALLAHASSEE — Florida is on pace to set a new record
for voting by mail in 2016, as nearly one of every four voters will make
their choices at home, weeks before Election Day.
As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton duel in a handful of states and plan
for two more TV debates, Floridians are voting in numbers never before
seen in a statewide election. At least 2.6 million ballots are flooding
mailboxes this week, a figure that could nearly double by Nov. 8, when
total turnout could approach 9 million.
"We're seeing it
grow and grow and grow," said Polk County Supervisor of
Elections Lori Edwards in Bartow.
At the current pace, more than half of all votes in
Florida will be cast before the polls open on Election
Day. The pacesetter remains Pinellas County, where a
larger share of voters vote by mail than anywhere else
in the state.
Linda Tindall, 67, a retiree in Seminole, said she
wouldn't think of voting any other way.
"There's no expense to the voter, and no travel problems
for the elderly," she said. "You have plenty of time to
review the ballot in your own home."
Democrats in mail ballot requests, a trend that would
appear to favor Trump in the nation's largest swing
But Democrats, citing figures from the state, say an aggressive outreach
program has closed the gap with the GOP to fewer than 100,000 mail
Democrats also contend that early voters lean toward the candidate with
momentum, and at the moment, Clinton holds a slim lead in Florida polls.
The highly volatile race could take unpredictable swings over the next
month, but by then, a lot of people in Florida will have already voted
County election supervisors promote voting by mail as a convenience, and
as a hedge against long lines at polling places on election day.
But there's a downside.
Casting a ballot at home requires voters to take simple steps to prevent
fraud, yet a surprising number of them get it wrong. As a result, their
ballots are not counted.
In the statewide primary on Aug. 30, several thousand ballots were
rejected by county canvassing boards because voters neglected to sign
their ballot envelope, or because their signature did not match the one
In Jacksonville's Duval County, a three-member canvassing board rejected
669 ballots because of signature problems, including 515 with mismatched
That's less than one-half of 1 percent of votes cast in Duval in that
election, the highest rejection rate of more than a dozen large and
medium-size counties the Times/Herald surveyed.
"There are no letters there, just squiggly lines," said Duval Supervisor
of Elections Mike Hogan.
Hogan's theory: Voters scribble their name because "they just want to
get it done and they're not careful about it."
It's so prevalent that he hired a handwriting expert to teach canvassing
board members how to study penmanship.
On social media and on their websites, counties constantly remind voters
to sign the envelopes. But the mistakes continue.
The Florida Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee have
filed suit against Florida, challenging the law that rejects ballots
with mismatched signatures.
Democrats say those voters deserve a second chance to correct any
problem, the same as is given to voters who omit a signature completely.
Those voters may be alerted by the elections office and can "cure" a
missing signature by submitting a form by 5 p.m. the day before the
election. But voters with mismatched signatures have no recourse.
In the primary, Pinellas County rejected 203 ballots, nearly all of them
with signature problems. Hillsborough rejected 333 ballots.
The Miami-Dade canvassing board cast aside 594 primary ballots. Broward
rejected 774 votes, more than any other county surveyed, including 725
ballots without a signature, according to records provided by election
"Rejection rates for vote-by-mail ballots vary significantly across
Florida's counties, underscoring the arbitrary and standardless nature
of the statewide process," attorney Mark Herron argued in the Democrats'
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a nationwide think tank that studies
voting trends, said in a research paper in June that the convenience of
voting by mail is offset by the risks.
"Voters are more likely to unwittingly disenfranchise themselves," the
The report urged voters to do their homework, including all signature
requirements and the deadlines to return ballots.
Tens of thousands more mail ballots are not tabulated every election
because they didn't reach elections offices in time.
Both political parties prefer voting by mail in Florida despite the
persistent sloppy paperwork problems.
Party strategists have access to the names of voters who have requested
ballots and they often "chase" them, using phone calls and direct mail,
to remind them to vote.
"There's a huge advantage," said Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist.
"You know who has a ballot and who doesn't."