Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Want your vote to count? Be sure to sign your absentee ballot, election officials say

TALLAHASSEE — When people in Florida vote by absentee ballot, something very basic is often absent: their signature.

From Key West to Pensacola, thousands of absentee or mail ballots were discarded in the Aug. 14 statewide primary because voters overlooked a requirement that they sign the envelope containing their ballot, even though the instructions conspicuously remind voters to do it.

"It is important that voters complete their own ballot and sign the outside of the absentee envelope themselves," said Mike Ertel, supervisor of elections in Seminole County near Orlando.

"Each voter needs to sign their own absentee envelope."

Ertel said voters mistakenly believe that a spouse or family member can sign the envelope on behalf of the voter. They can't.

Seminole County is smack in the middle of the pivotal I-4 corridor, an area well-stocked with swing voters who could prove decisive in the Nov. 6 presidential election. Millions more Floridians will vote in November than voted in August.

As "no excuse" absentee voting grows in popularity in Florida, elections officials are redoubling their efforts and reminding voters to take their time and fill out the ballot paperwork properly, or risk having their votes not be counted.

Election supervisors emphasize that every vote is carefully scrutinized — including provisional ballots and absentee ballots. Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said an "urban legend" has sprouted up in Florida that provisional ballots are not examined in some cases. They are, always, Corley said.

Absentee ballots are more common, especially in Pinellas County, where Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark promotes the convenience of at-home voting, with ballot drop-off centers throughout the county.

At the county elections center in Largo, thousands of absentees arrive and depart daily and are categorized using state-of-the-art sorting equipment. Employees seated at computer screens check to be sure that the signature on an absentee ballot matches the same voter's signature on file.

"There has to be enough of the signature that matches what we have on file, so that we're comfortable that it's the same person," Clark said. "If we feel it's the voter's signature, we'll accept it. If it's a close call, it goes to the canvassing board."

Pinellas' three-member canvassing board was busy in the days after the Aug. 14 primary, when a total of 1,024 questionable absentee ballots were presented to the board, which is composed of a judge, county commissioner and staff member of the county elections office.

Ultimately, 302 ballots were rejected, a fraction of the countywide total of 102,625 returned absentees, according to the agency's website. The other 722 questionable absentee ballots were declared valid and were counted by the canvassing board.

Pinellas' rejected primary absentee ballots fell mainly into three major categories. Slightly more than half of the rejected mail ballots, 153, lacked a signature, while 85 others were tossed because the signature on the absentee ballot didn't match the on-file signature of the same voter. Another 46 absentee ballots were discarded because they were signed by someone other than the voter.

Other counties report similar percentages of rejected absentee ballots, with a variety of different problems that resulted in the votes not being counted.

If a voter's absentee ballot is flagged before Election Day because of problems with a signature, voters could have the opportunity to update their signature on file. But generally, voters only have one opportunity to get it right.

In every case, voters are notified in writing that their absentee ballot was rejected.

Miami-Dade rejected a total of 2,427 returned absentee ballots out of 164,867 cast. The majority of them, 1,599, were postmarked after the 7 p.m. close of the polls on Aug. 14. Another 582 were discarded for lack of a signature, and 307 others were tossed aside because the signatures did not match.

In Orlando's Orange County, elections officials rejected 553 absentee ballots out of 39,064. Nearly all of the bad ballots fell into two main categories: no signature on the certificate envelope, 300, and signatures that didn't match, 208.

Like Pinellas, Orange County's election officials review every questionable absentee and present their findings to the canvassing board, which makes the final decision, said Fred Altensee, a spokesman for the Orange County Elections Office.

Sarasota County rejected 505 absentee ballots out of 17,861 that were returned for the primary. The vast majority arrived too late to be counted.

"Voters should be sure to properly complete their vote by mail ballot, sign and date the certificate envelope and include postage," said Corley, Pasco County's supervisor of elections. "If your signature has changed, particularly due to medical reasons, it's imperative that you update your signature."

Volusia County rejected 356 absentees out of 24,303, and about half of the junked votes had no signatures. St. Johns County rejected 146 out of 4,827, 110 of which were not returned until after Election Day.

"Too late to count," said St. Johns Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes.

In Seminole County, it's a similar story: Ertel said the biggest reason that absentee ballots don't count is the most obvious reason of all: Voters don't turn them in by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

"Voters should give themselves plenty of leeway when mailing it back," Ertel said.

Times/Herald staff writer Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia inquiry that has shadowed the White House for much of his ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Published: 12/16/17
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Published: 12/16/17
CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.Polic...
Published: 12/16/17
Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

A Democratic candidate hoping to flip a hotly contested congressional seat in Kansas has dropped out of the race after allegations that she sexually harassed a male subordinate resurfaced amid her campaign.Andrea Ramsey, 57, who was running to unseat...
Published: 12/16/17
Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers on Friday secured enough votes to pass the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades, putting them on the cusp of their first significant legislative victory this year as party leaders geared up to pass a $1.5 trillion t...
Published: 12/15/17
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Published: 12/15/17
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Published: 12/15/17
Judge signals release of ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring

Judge signals release of ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring

A federal judge Friday said a bail package has been put together that would release former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort from home confinement in his condominium in Virginia and allow him to reside at his house in Palm Beach Gardens, but unde...
Published: 12/15/17