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Voting-by-mail off to a rousing start in Florida

CORRECTION Election 2022 Signature Checks North Carolina
Hannah Schoenbaum/AP
CORRECTS TO WAYNE COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, NOT WAKE COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS - Stickers reading "I Voted By Mail" are displayed as the Wayne County Board of Elections prepares absentee ballots in Goldsboro, N.C., on Sept. 22, 2022. The North Carolina GOP filed two legal motions on Sept. 28, 2022, against the State Board of Elections over the board’s prohibition of county election officials scrutinizing signatures on absentee voting documents. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

We’re still a little over a month out from the November 8 general election, but the number of mail-in ballots continue to flood in.

As of Wednesday, over 13,000 vote-by-mail ballots have already been cast across Florida, out of nearly three million requested. The most ballots have been cast in three counties — Palm Beach, Bay, and Okaloosa.

“We have more overseas military than any other county in Florida, overseas and absent military combined,” said Paul Lux, supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County. “At the very outset of our mailouts, we had mailed right at about 10,000 ballots to all of our absent military areas, etc."

On the first day of sending out the other mail ballots, Lux says they shipped more than 22,000 to the post office — a combined 32,000 or thereabouts.

“To date 2,073 [have been returned], and I would anticipate that [final] number is going to be somewhere closer to 33%,” he said. “It seems here in Okaloosa, about a third of the people vote early, about a third of them vote by mail, and about a third of them vote on Election Day.”

Has mail-in voting increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Lux says that’s a question to be answered in 2024 because another new law has all absentee requests expiring after this year. Starting in January, voters will have to file new requests through 2024.

“That will be where we really see whether this number is going to remain constant,” he said. “And this is a shift in how people are preferring to receive their ballot, or are the people who are just still on the list because they wanted one during Covet and now they don't need one? Is that going to be an anomaly or is that going to be a permanent shift? We really won't have that answer until 2024.”

County election supervisors are also reminding Floridians in areas affected by Hurricane Ian, that vote-by-mail ballots can be sent to their temporary residences. Leon County’s Mark Early says voting by mail, especially in those areas, will be more convenient than waiting to vote in person on Election Day.

“Let your elections office know where your current address is, and we can send out a second ballot to you at that location,” said Early. “If your primary residence where the vote-by-mail ballot was going to be delivered, if it’s not in existence, or if you’ve got trouble receiving your mail there.”

Escambia County Supervisor David Stafford says they’ve sent out about 48,000 ballots by mail — the first going out to military and overseas voters.

“By federal law that have to be mailed no later than 45 days prior to the election,” Stafford said. “That was a little more than 5,000, and the balance went out earlier this week. So we've got about 48,000 out and they're starting to come in. As of yesterday, we had close to 300 that are in.”

At this point, the increase of mail voting in 2020 during the pandemic appears to be leveling off or even declining for this mid-term election in Escambia County. Stafford refers us to recent electoral history — 2018.

“The last gubernatorial election, obviously, pre-COVID, we tabulated just over 34,000 vote-by-mail ballots,” Stafford said. “If you sort of take 2020 out of the equation, you could almost set your clock by it — 25% of our votes cast were by mail. Obviously, you saw an uptick in that in 2020.”

The deadline to request a mail ballot is October 29, ten days before the election. There’s an electronic form to sign up. And Stafford reminds us there are some changes in election law, compliments of the Florida Legislature.

“Traditionally, you had to give your name, your date of birth, and address,” he said. “Now, we're requiring an additional identifier, namely the last four digits of your Social Security number, or your Florida driver's license or Florida ID card. So be sure to include that information because if you don't, we're going to have to reach back out to you and get that information from you.”

Of the ballots returned so far in Escambia County, just over 6,000 are from Democrats, 4,500 by Republicans, and 3,000 from those with minor or no party affiliation.

Once again, the deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot is 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 29.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.