It's in the mail: First primary ballots headed to overseas voters
It's seven weeks before primary election day in Florida, but the first wave of primary ballots is in the mail to voters living or stationed in dozens of countries overseas. By law, those ballots, many headed to active-duty military personnel, must be in the mail by Saturday, July 16, or 45 days before the Aug. 30 election.
The counties that generally ship the most overseas and military ballots are Escambia, Okaloosa and Bay in the Florida Panhandle, along with Duval, Brevard and Hillsborough, all with large military installations. In Okaloosa County, the home of Eglin Air Force Base, Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux said Tuesday he mailed 3,600 ballots, and another 1,300 will be sent by Friday to voters who emailed requests to his office. On Lux's office wall in Crestview is a map (above) dotted with dozens of pins marking the many destinations for his county's overseas ballots.
Yes, overseas voters can request a ballot by an email, but they can't return a completed ballot electronically, because Florida prohibits it. Those voters can only return a ballot by regular mail or by fax, an antiquated system that Lux said has to change. He has said that a soldier stationed in Afghanistan shouldn't be forced to scramble to find a fax machine in the desert.
"We have been conducting absentee balloting for our military the exact same way since the Civil War in the 1860s," Lux said. "They send me a request for an absentee ballot. I put it in the mail and hope they get it, and they vote it and put it back in the mail and hope I get it in time for it to be counted." He emphasized that he supports transmitting of completed ballots electronically -- not voting on the Internet.
Lux is one of three county election supervisors appointed to a statewide task force created by the Legislature to study modernizing of overseas voting procedures. The others are Escambia's David Stafford and Hillsborough's Craig Latimer. Hillsborough will mail nearly 2,400 overseas and military ballots and email nearly 1,300 more by Friday.
The statewide primary turnout will likely be below 30 percent, and Lux said that historically, the return rate for overseas ballots has been much lower in a primary than in a November general election. "Everybody wants to vote for president. Not everybody wants to vote for school board," Lux said.