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Tampa election first locally to test new absentee ballot law

A new state law means that voters will have to request a mail-in ballot for the March 7 city election by Feb. 25. They no longer arrive at your home automatically.
 
Voters drop off mail-in ballots at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office in Tampa on Nov. 8. Now voters have to request an absentee ballot each election season.
Voters drop off mail-in ballots at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office in Tampa on Nov. 8. Now voters have to request an absentee ballot each election season. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jan. 26, 2023

Voting by mail has been the most popular way to cast a ballot in Hillsborough County for the last few years, but there’s a new wrinkle for Tampa voters as the March 7 city election approaches.

Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 90, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, which changed some of the rules for absentee voting.

One important change is that voters have to request an absentee ballot each election season. Previously, requests were good for two general election cycles. For the upcoming Tampa election, voters must request a ballot by Feb. 25.

Last year, even though the law was in effect, the mail-in status of voters was extended until the end of 2022. So Tampa voters will be the first in the bay area to confront the change.

“Tampa is a huge city. A major city and it’s one of the first (to deal with the new law),” said Amy Keith, program director for Common Cause Florida, a branch of the national voting rights and government accountability organization.

The extra step required to request a mail ballot for each election makes accessing a ballot harder, especially for the disabled, elderly, working poor and other groups, Keith said.

“It makes it harder to participate, for people to have their voice heard and have a say,” Keith said.

In the November election, one-third of Florida voters cast their ballots by mail, she said.

So far, approximately 14,000 Tampa voters have requested a ballot. In 2019, the last city election, more than 58,000 voters requested mail ballots, said Gerri Kramer, spokesperson for the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections.

That is concerning to local election officials.

“Voters may not be aware of the need to submit a new request — they also may not be aware yet that there is an election coming up, since it’s a spring election. We’re working to get the word out,” said Kramer.

According to the elections office, the easiest way to request a mail ballot is by using the online request form at VoteHillsborough.gov or by calling the Supervisor of Elections Office at 813-612-4180. Voters will need to provide their Florida driver’s license or ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number to verify their identity.

The deadline to register to vote is Feb. 6.