Voting By Mail? The Earlier The Better Says Experts

Sep 3, 2020

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The big question in a presidential election year is typically “who are you going to vote for?” But in 2020 — during a pandemic — the big question might be “how are you going to vote?”

During last month’s primary, more than 2.3 million Florida voters chose to vote by mail compared to 558,430 voting in-person. In Northwest Florida, there was an uptick in mail-in ballots.

Tappie Villane, Santa Rosa County’s supervisor of elections, said there was a little over 11,000 vote-by-mail ballots received — a slightly higher increase than average. Still, in-person voting was the most popular method.

“I usually compare by the same type of election years and in 2016, over 8,000 (people) voted by mail but more people voted early,” Villane. “In 2020, it switched.”

Okaloosa County accepted more than 14,000 mail-in ballots out of the total 43,169 votes, and in Escambia County, more than 25,000 ballots were mailed, which accounted for 44% of primary election votes. 

Head to Escambiavotes.com, and you’ll see Vote By Mail information front and center. Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford said there’s been an increased number of calls about mail-in ballots, and subsequent requests for them. 

“Vote-by-mail is a more popular form of voting in the state of Florida,” he said. “Look at statewide results — one-third cast their votes by mail (in the primary).” 

But voting by mail has also become yet another divisive issue for Americans, as talks of expanding mail-in ballots began early in the pandemic. 

Every state allows at least a portion of their voting population to vote by mail. In 2002, Florida began allowing any voter who requests a mail-in ballot to receive one — no questions asked. 

“There’s been a steady stream of vote-by-mail requests since it began,” said Stafford. “We have two decades of experience.” 

For those who have never voted by mail before, there’s plenty of questions about how that ballot will be verified and counted. Elections experts say the key to this election is being prepared and early. 

“You have until October 24 to request a mail-in ballot, but I wouldn’t wait that late,” said Villane. “You want to give yourself plenty of time.”

Vote-by-mail ballots are verified by signatures. Your signature may not look exactly the same as when you last registered to vote, but Villane said election staff is checking for patterns, not a carbon copy. 

“Last October, the state provided signature verification training, which is online so we can go back and review,” said Villane. 

If a signature doesn’t match, it’s not automatically thrown out. Instead, voters are contacted so they can fill out a cure affidavit, which must be returned no later than 5 p.m. on the second day after the election.  

“It’s helpful to completely fill out the back of the ballot envelope and add a cell phone or email address,” said Villane. “Otherwise, we just mail a letter.” 

Cure affidavits are not very common, said Stafford. In the August primary, Escambia County only sent out a handful of cure affidavits out of more than 25,000 mail ballots. 

“We had a 99.6% accepting rate,” he said. 

You can also check your signature on file by visiting your local elections office, or updating your voter registration (deadline is Oct. 5). 

Once the ballot is completed — and signed — you can mail or drop it off at your local elections’ office or at an early voting drop box. To follow the process all the way through, you can check the status of your mail-in ballot online to make sure it was accepted. 

Mail-in ballots must be returned or postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. But sooner is always better. Ballots can be returned to drop-off boxes at early voting sites or to local elections offices.

“If you’re filling out your ballot within a week of Election Day, consider hand delivery,” said Stafford. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”