Don’t change voting laws ahead of 2024, election officials tell Florida leaders

The changes are “almost impossible” to implement before 2024, when DeSantis is expected to run for president.
In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral.
In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Feb. 21|Updated Feb. 23

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s elections supervisors are asking state lawmakers not to implement changes to vote-by-mail ballots before the 2024 presidential election, warning that they will confuse voters and slow down vote counting.

A provision in last year’s Senate Bill 524 requires the state to come up with a plan to require Floridians voting by mail to include either the last four digits of their Social Security number, their driver’s license number or their state ID card number next to their signature.

The change was touted by Republicans as a security measure to crack down on alleged voter fraud.

But voters currently sign their name on the outside of the vote-by-mail envelope. Adding sensitive information to the outside of the envelope is considered a security risk, so supervisors and state officials have been grappling with how to implement the change. (The ballots inside the envelope have no information that identifies the voter.)

Supervisors have considered including a second envelope or creating an envelope with a larger flap that protects the information.

Those options are considered cumbersome and costly; the two counties that use larger vote-by-mail flaps — Duval and Brevard — were the slowest to tabulate results last year, Secretary of State Cord Byrd told a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Moreover, vendors won’t be able to create them before mail ballots start going out in January for the March 2024 presidential preference primary election, elections officials said. Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely expected to run for the Republican nomination for president.

“Logistically, it’s almost impossible to make that happen for the 2024 election cycle,” Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley told a Senate committee Tuesday.

The state’s 67 county election supervisors are unanimous in their opposition to implementing the legislation before 2024, their report to lawmakers stated.

Byrd, who reports to DeSantis, is not recommending adopting the information on vote-by-mail envelopes.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee chairperson, Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, wouldn’t commit one way or another to holding off on the changes.

“It’s kind of our job now to take all that in and determine how best to approach this as we go into another election,” he said Tuesday.

Ahead of 2024, all Floridians wishing to vote by mail will have to make a new request to their local elections supervisor as part of the Legislature’s recent changes. About a third of Floridians who voted in November did so by mail.

Earley said voters are slow to request new vote-by-mail ballots, and they’re upset with the recent changes. In Hillsborough County, for example, 58,000 people requested vote-by-mail ballots for the 2019 city of Tampa election. For the upcoming city election, on March 7, only 18,014 have requested ballots. The deadline to request ballots is Saturday.

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“We’ve had a lot of angry phone calls already,” said Earley, who is president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections, the organization representing the state’s 67 county elections officials.