As Duval County election workers check vote-by-mail ballots with problems, new technology is helping

Over 47,000 people requested vote-by-mail ballots. So far, more than 25,000 — a little more than half — have been returned

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Early voting is underway in the first election for Jacksonville’s mayor and other local offices.

Turnout has been relatively low, but election officials hope that will pick up with this first weekend of early voting.

Right now, election staff is looking at vote-by-mail ballots and checking those that have problems — and new technology is helping with that.

CANDIDATES & RACES ON THE BALLOT: News4JAX Voter’s Guide | LOCATIONS & TIMES: Early voting starts in Jacksonville’s city election

News4JAX on Friday stopped by the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office’s Election Center, where vote-by-mail ballots are being opened. Once they come in, they are fed through a tabulator.

If there is a problem with a ballot — like someone voted twice in a race — there is a new system in place. A computerized offline system allows election staff to remake those ballots, and it is all done by a touchscreen.

For example, there is an overvote. That is when someone votes for two candidates in the same race. So election staff will remake the ballot with the voter’s selections for the rest of the races so those can be counted.

There are other issues that are a little bit more subtle — like a damaged ballot that is not going to be able to go through any tabulator.

Another example News4JAX saw was a voter clearly voted for one candidate in the property appraiser’s race, but there was a little bit of a circle that was filled in for another candidate.

Election officials have to try to determine what the voter intended to do, and that is what the canvassing board will be doing.

“There are a lot of rules for voter intent. But the best advice I can give a voter is, if you’re trying to make a change on your ballot, just make that intent clear, scratch something out. And you know, you can put a little note on there, I don’t want to vote for this person,” said Chief Elections Officer Robert Phillips. “Don’t put your initials don’t put your name on anything because we don’t want to know who, you know, how an individual voted.”

This new machine helps remakes those ballots so there is no human error in duplicating them. The original ballot is placed on the screen and a worker uses a touch screen to make the replacement ballot, and then it’s labeled. This is an offline procedure, meaning no one should be able to get in and hack this system. The new ballot will be reviewed by the board to determine if it was copied correctly.

As of Friday, there were about 200 ballots with issues. As more are processed, that number will go up. Over 47,000 people have requested vote-by-mail ballots, and so far, more than 25,000 — a little more than half — have been returned.

Turnout was just over 6% at last check, but there could be an uptick this weekend and through next weekend.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.