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More people than ever opt to vote by mail in Florida

Requested vote-by-mail ballots top 2 million

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A record number of voters are choosing to vote by mail this year, as elections officials said 2.6 million mail-in ballots, accounting for about one-fifth of registered Florida voters, will be sent out this week. 

That number is an increase from the 2.3 million that were mailed for the primary two years ago.

“Both parties have taken their likely voters and they've turned them into absentee or vote-by-mail voters because you want to make sure that you get those votes in,” said Andrew Wiggins, with the Florida Chamber of Commerce. 

In at least two counties, the number is even higher. In Pinellas and Manatee, 30 percent of all registered voters have asked to vote by mail. 

The high number is due in part to the high voter turnout in 2016.

“People that were engaged in 2016 and went out and requested an absentee ballot, they'll get it again this time if they selected the four-year cycle,” Wiggins said.

Mail-in voting has been fraught with problems in the past. 

In the 2016 election, it was commonplace for ballots to be thrown out because of a missing or mismatched signature.

“There were a number of ballots that were being rejected due to the lack of the match,” said Ron Labasky, with the Florida State Association of Elections Supervisors. “And believe it or not, people would go to all the trouble to vote their ballot, put it in the secrecy envelope, put a stamp on it and forget to sign it.”

But the Florida Legislature changed the law after losing a battle in federal court.

“We've corrected that methodology and I think that's gonna increase the number of votes that we actually get to count,” Labasky said.

Now, if there is a problem with a mail-in ballot, supervisors must notify the voter, who can then submit an affidavit to prove the authenticity of the signature. 

To count, the affidavit must arrive back at the Supervisor of Elections before 5 p.m. on the day before the election. 

As of Thursday, more than 2.3 million ballots have been sent out for the Aug. 28 primary elections, according to the Florida Division of Elections. As of Thursday afternoon, 2,361 had been returned, 1,064 from Republicans, 920 from Democrats, 39 from third-party voters and 338 from people without party affiliation.

Republicans had requested 913,071 vote-by-mail ballots and Democrats had asked for 933,777, according to the Division of Elections. The rest had been sent to people registered with third parties or without party affiliation.

The state had more than 12.9 million registered voters as of June 30.

Voter registration numbers will be updated after Monday, the final day in which people can register to vote in the primary.

The last day for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots is Aug. 22, and the last day for supervisors to send out the ballots is Aug. 24.

Voters can also pick up vote-by-mail ballots from local election supervisors up to the day before the election.