With record numbers voting by mail: What you need to know

FAQs for Florida voters

File photo. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida counties have mailed out more than 5.6 million ballots for the Nov. 3 general election and nearly 1.8 million have already been returned, according to the Division of Elections website. That’s more than 12% of registered voters in the state.

Floridians have voted by mail for nearly 20 years, but because of a pandemic combined with the initial disdain then endorsement of the process by President Donald Trump and recent changes to the U.S. Postal Service that could impact the timely delivery of ballots, voting by mail became something everyone wanted to know more about.

Members of the military serving overseas, college students and people who work far away from where they live – such as presidents – regularly vote by mail. But as Florida is one of the 34 states where you don’t need a reason to request a vote-by-mail ballot, 60% of the votes in Florida’s August primary were cast by mail – a record fueled by concerns over in-person voting in the era of COVID-19.

Three weeks before the deadline, requests for mail ballots have doubled the total number who voted by mail in the last presidential election and represent nearly 40% of all registered voters in the state. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 24 -- almost two weeks away.

Of those who have returned ballots so far, 50% are registered Democrats, 28% are Republicans and the rest have no party affiliation or are registered with minor parties.

The Monday after Duval County’s first ballots were mailed out, Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan was surprised by the crowd of people that showed up at his office to turn them in. There’s been a steady stream of voters turning them in each weekday.

“I don’t trust the mail,” one voter told News4Jax, seemingly summarizing the sentiment of people who made the trip downtown.

What happens over the next three weeks ... and beyond?

When do the ballots go in the mail?

Florida requires overseas ballots went in the mail late last week. Requested ballots to domestic addresses began going in the mail on Sept. 24.

Is it too late to get a ballot by mail? How do I request one?

Any registered Florida voter can request a ballot online, by mail or telephone from your county’s supervisor of elections office until 5 p.m. on Oct. 24. After that, you can still pick one up at your county supervisor of elections office.

Note: This year the U.S. Postal Service urges you to allow at least one week before Election Day to make sure your ballot gets delivered in time to count.

Can someone other than me pick up my mail-in ballot?

Yes as long as that person is an immediate family member, legal guardian or someone officially designated to pick up your ballot by filling out an official form. They will need your address, the driver’s license number or other Florida-issued identification and your signature.

When do mail-in ballots need to be received?

In Florida, the ballot needs to be received at the county’s election office at the same time the polls close on Election Day, 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Other states allow votes arriving up to 10 days later to be counted as long as the ballots are postmarked by Election Day. This is why people should be prepared to not know the outcome of the presidential race on Election Night if the outcome is close.

Can I return a mail ballot any way other than by the U.S. Mail?

Yes. You can drop them off at your county’s supervisor of elections office and the state law requires drop boxes at all early voting sites. In Duval County, there will be secure drop boxes at 20 early voting site; Clay County will have seven and St. Johns County will have 10. Both Clay and St. Johns will offer drop boxes that can be accessed 24 hours a day.

Can I check to see if my mail-in ballot was received?

You can check the status of your mail-in ballot by submitting your name and birthdate on the Florida Division of Elections website. Your county’s Supervisor of Elections can also provide that information.

Can I change my vote on a mail-in ballot if I change my mind?

No. Florida will not allow you to change your vote after you send in your vote-by-mail ballot. However, if you make a mistake while you’re filling it out, the Supervisor of Elections will send you a replacement ballot.

When are vote-by-mail ballots counted?

Counties open and validate mail-in ballots (must be signed and the address verified) and most counted those received by Election Day before all the in-person ballots are counted. Those numbers and those from early voting are usually the first results reported on election night.

Why would my mail-in ballot not be counted?

A ballot will be rejected if it arrives after 7 p.m. Election Day, the address isn’t current, it isn’t signed or the signature doesn’t match that on file with the elections office. If there is a problem with the signature, you will be notified by the Supervisor of Elections and must complete a Vote-By Mail Ballot Cure Affidavit and get it to your county’s supervisor of elections by 5 p.m. two days after Election Day.

Since everyone’s signature changes over time, you are encouraged to send in a new voter registration form every few years to make sure your signature is up to date and avoid any issues.

Duval County supervisor helps voters avoid common mistakes with vote-by-mail ballots

Video explainer from Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan

What percent of mail ballots are rejected in Florida?

In the last statewide election for which we could find statewide data is the March Presidential Preference Primary, about 18,000 mail-in ballots were rejected -- 1.3% of the 1.4 million that were returned. Most were rejected for the reasons mentioned above: signatures were missing or didn’t match the one on record or because they arrived too late.

In the August primaries, the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office reported 2.3% of about 57,612 of mail ballots were rejected while in Clay County, only 0.6% of 17,868 were disqualified.

Should I be suspicious of mailers and robocalls encouraging me to vote by mail?

Both parties and some advocacy groups are sending out mail and calling registered voters, some providing links to sign up to receive a mail ballot. All sides want more voters who believe in their candidate or cause want a higher turnout of voters who support them. The good news is every single one we’ve seen and heard is sending people to the official supervisor of elections site to sign up.

Is there a difference between a vote-by-mail ballot and an absentee ballot?

Not in Florida. The Legislature changed the terminology from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail” in 2016 because all registered voters in the state are allowed to cast a ballot without showing up at their assigned polling location. Absentee ballots in some states require the person to provide a reason why they are unable to vote in person to get a ballot mailed to them.

Yes. Bring your vote-by-mail ballot with you to the polls. If the poll workers can’t confirm that your vote hasn’t already been counted, you will be allowed to vote on a provisional ballot so the canvassing board will count it after verifying that no ballot was received.

About the Authors: