Floridians who vote by mail should update their signatures with county elections supervisors to ensure their ballots count. Elections officials around the state are encouraging voters to have the most recent version of their signatures on file or risk ballot rejection at election time. With nearly one in three Florida voters casting their ballots by mail, this is a request that should not be ignored.
The Tampa Bay Times' Steve Bousquet reported recently that elections supervisors in Miami-Dade County sent letters to the 189,000 county voters who cast ballots by mail urging them to update their signatures 15 days before the election. Other counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough, call or write voters with suspect signatures. The considerable outreach effort by elections officials underscores the importance of having the correct information on file.
State law requires that elections officials double-check signatures on absentee ballots. Elections workers compare the signature on a completed ballot with the signature the office already has on file. While differences in the way single letters are rendered rarely raise alarm, glaring inaccuracies cause ballots to be pulled and reviewed by a three-member canvassing board. Hillsborough elections officials said that of the 172,000 absentee ballots cast in the 2012 election, only 150 signatures failed to match.
Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, who won the Governor's Sterling Award for excellence in 2015, says that voters also should update their names and addresses, particularly if they plan to show up at the polls on election day. Outdated information could result in being forced to cast a provisional ballot or being sent to a different precinct to vote.
Some critics have argued that Florida's verification methods are an attempt to discourage or disenfranchise voters. "Not at all," Latimer said. "As a matter of fact, what this does is truly speaks to the validity of the vote."
Florida is far behind other states in making registering to vote or casting a ballot more convenient. Long lines at the polls and curbs on early voting in previous elections illustrate just how much work the Legislature and local elections supervisors have to do.
Lawmakers have made it possible for anyone to vote by mail for any reason. Now, voters have to take the responsibility seriously. People who routinely vote by mail or expect they might should update their information now before absentee ballots start going out later this month to voters who are overseas or in the military. It is a minimal request of voters who should not allow inattention to prevent them from having their voices heard.