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Q&A: Mail-in ballots, autism

Securing mail-in ballots

Are there any special precautions put in place for mail-in ballots not getting lost and making it safely to be counted?

We posed your question to the Pinellas County supervisor of elections. Here's the response from Nancy Whitlock, who is the elections administrator representing Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark:

"Voters can return their ballots by mail or drop them off at any ballot drop-off location. The supervisor of elections office has auditing and change of custody procedures, which are included as part of their security procedures that are filed with the Florida Division of Elections, to ensure mail ballots that are being transported are accounted for and secured.

"Voters can also track their mail ballots on the supervisor of election's website (votepinellas.com) or call 727-464-VOTE (8683) — to confirm that their ballots were received. All eligible mail ballots are counted and included in official election results. After the election, voters can also confirm online or by phone that their ballots were counted."

Other counties have similar processes, though you should check with your supervisor of elections for specifics.

Ratios of autism

When I first heard about autism several years ago, the U.S. ratio was about 1 in 150 children. Recently they published U.S. ratios at approximately 1 in 70. Are the autism rates growing equally in the rest of the world, or do some countries have higher or lower rates than the United States?

Autism rates vary worldwide because countries and researchers conduct studies differently and "against different social constructs," a spokeswoman with the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For example, South Korean families with children who are slow to develop won't seek opinions or diagnosis because of the stigma of autism spectrum disorder, an article in the Harvard College Global Health Review stated.

"There are no crystal clear answers about whether or how much autism is indeed on the rise and what the international statistics truly mean," Simons Foundation's Stacey Greenebaum said. A recent study in Brazil found 27.2 cases of autism per 10,000 people, according to a Simons Foundation article. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 report found rates as high as 121 per 10,000 in Arizona and Missouri to 42 per 10,000 in Florida.

Other studies put the rates at 16.1 in China, 11.7 in Indonesia, 10 in Israel and 1.4 in Oman. "Even though it seems like anybody and everybody has heard of autism, in many places in the world, it's still sort of a new topic," an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Macau told the foundation. The CDC didn't begin tracking autism rates in the United States until 2000.

Compiled from Times and wire reports.

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