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Got a letter saying your Florida voter registration needs updating? Don’t panic (yet)

Some voters are nervous about mail-in ballots this year. Here's an explanation for one letter that might prompt questions.
A roll of "I Voted" stickers inside a polling station. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Published Nov. 1, 2018
Updated Nov. 1, 2018

Her friends and family told her not to vote by mail.

They had read news stories warning of rejected ballots across the county, and decided the risk was too great.

But Laura Redwine was busy, and besides she had nothing to hide. She'd already voted by mail in the 2018 primary, she said, her first time casting a ballot in Florida after she moved here last year. She bubbled in her picks and sent the form.

Then she got a letter from Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. It said officials needed an updated signature from Redwine, on a Florida Voter Registration Application, which was included in the envelope. The letter was dated Oct. 26 and reached her the week before election day, long past the registration deadline for what she considered a critical midterm.

Laura Redwine received a letter indicating she needed to update her voter registration with a new signature. [Photo courtesy Laura Redwine]
Laura Redwine received a letter indicating she needed to update her voter registration with a new signature. [Photo courtesy Laura Redwine]
To Redwine, a Democrat, the implication was obvious.

"My thoughts were, okay, they've invalidated my vote," she said. "If I fill this out then it voids my registration, and voter registration is already past."

The assistant dean at the University of South Florida's College of Nursing said she "was very alarmed and very upset."

But officials with the elections office say there is no reason to fear. Redwine's vote should count, and her original registration date will hold. Voters can update their registrations — be it their addresses or signatures — until Election Day. They have to use an application form but can check a box to indicate whether they are completing a new registration or fixing an old one.

"The bottom line — updates using a registration application do not change a voter's registration date," wrote Gerri Kramer, director of communications for the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections, in an email. "Once a voter is registered to vote in Florida, the voter registration deadline for elections no longer applies to them."

READ MORE: Mail-in voters, got a postcard saying your ballot isn't in? Here's what may have happened.

Redwine is not alone in being nervous about the voting process. Mail ballots in Florida were more likely to be rejected than those cast during early voting or on election day in the last two presidential contests, according to a report from the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Study says mail ballots have higher rejection rates and they vary widely by county

Absentee ballots in Georgia are at the center of a legal battle, and in Texas, some voters in Fort Worth still had not received mail-in forms earlier this week. The Associated Press reported about 319,000 absentee ballots for the last presidential election were rejected nationwide.

When they run into a snag, many people, like Redwine, wonder whether it's voter suppression or a procedural mix-up.

The concern forms a tense backdrop as supervisors in Florida encourage more mail and early voting for efficiency with this year's long ballot. Estimates say it could take nearly 15 minutes to fill out the form, which is not only full of local and state races, but a thicket of proposed constitutional amendments.

In Pinellas County, elections officials do not send out letters like the one Redwine received between the registration deadline and election day because they do not want to confuse voters, said spokesman Dustin Chase.

Kramer, the Hillsborough supervisor's communications director, said officials might send such a letter if they have only one or two signatures on file for a voter and are looking to add another to the record.

"We haven't done any sort of major mailing regarding signatures, they are just sent when needed for individual cases," she wrote.

If Redwine's signature on her mail-in ballot did not match, Kramer said, she would receive a different letter with an affidavit and instructions for rectifying the issue. Voters with questions about their mail-in ballot status can search on the supervisor's website to see if it has been received and if there are any problems.

Pasco County's Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said people with doubts have an easy, consistent fallback: "Contact their supervisor of elections office for assistance."

Even after hearing of the reassurances, Redwine, of Lutz, said she was "still skeptical" and plans to follow up.

"I need to do this," she said. "It's very important that my vote count."

Got something else worrisome? The Tampa Bay Times this year has partnered with ProPublica in a national network of news organizations covering the process of voting. The project is called Electionland. If you have any questions, problems or concerns around casting a ballot, we want to hear from you. Find @TB_Times and @Electionland on Twitter or Facebook, or email zsampson@tampabay.com.

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