Arriving in mailboxes near you: ballots for the Aug. 24 statewide primary election. But that does not mean it's time to vote. The early arrival of ballots should signal voters that it is time to educate themselves so they can vote responsibly, and they should avoid rushing to return them.
Elections officials began sending out ballots last week to Florida voters who said they wanted to vote by mail this year. Florida has no law requiring elections supervisors to hold ballots until closer to election day, so some supervisors mail them out as early as possible. That means many voters received their ballots almost six weeks before the election and long before they have enough information to cast informed votes in all races.
It is unfortunate that forces seem to be conspiring to pressure Florida voters to cast their ballots so early. Voting by mail has been heavily promoted by elections supervisors, who rave about its convenience for voters but also find it makes their jobs easier by distributing voting over weeks rather than concentrating it on election day.
While the convenience of voting by mail is undeniable, there are some worrisome aspects to the trend. Some voters seem compelled to return their mail ballots immediately, though they have until election day to do so. Candidates even have begun pressuring voters to send back their ballots quickly by promising they won't be inundated with political fliers and calls once they return their ballots. That kind of pressure serves the candidates' interests, not the voters'. People who vote immediately upon receiving mail ballots have less information on which to base their voting decisions. Candidate debates, the release of candidates' full financial information and revelations about candidates' backgrounds and behavior often come later in the campaign season. Early voters also may be more easily influenced by political advertising.
Voting is too important for guesswork. Democracy is best served when voters take the task seriously, making sure they have familiarized themselves with all the candidates and issues before marking their ballots.
Depending on where voters live and their party registration, their Aug. 24 primary ballot may include races for governor, state attorney general, Congress, judges, school board, county commission and other local offices. Where more than one member of a political party is running, voters will choose the nominee for that party for the Nov. 2 general election ballot. In other cases, primary voters will pick the person who takes office.
Mail voters should be smart voters, too. No matter when the ballot arrives, gather plenty of information about the candidates before returning it. Just because elections supervisors sent the ballots out does not mean voters have to immediately send them back.