Yielding to pressure, Duval’s election canvassing board livestreams ballot review

Board individually reviews thousands of vote-by-mail ballots

Meetings and the questionable ballots now being streamed, allowing you to watch the process.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With pressure building on the Duval County Canvassing Board to let the public see its review of vote-by-mail ballots, the board decided Tuesday to continue to exclude news cameras but began livestreaming the process themselves.

The livestream camera shows the questionable ballots -- everything from ballots not marked property, a candidate’s name crossed out, two candidates selected or no vote at all. It does not show the process of election staff remaking ballots where the intent can be determined so they can be tabulated -- but does not show election staff remaking the ballot so it can be tabulated.

About one hour of Tuesday morning’s ballot review was streamed and the board returned and screen hundreds of more ballots in the afternoon.

Example of a ballot that the canvassing board must sort out and have duplicated before it can count. (Duval County Supervisor of Elections)

News4Jax has shown the process for years: the canvassing board deciding the intent of the voter on any questionable vote-by-mail ballot.

When restricting cameras from the process was announced last week, News4Jax brought in our lawyer and was joined in objecting to the ban by other media organizations. Members of the canvassing board said the rule was added out of concern that voters' signatures could end up shown to the public even though News4Jax agreed never to show the signature -- and never has.

“The board did make an effort to reach an acceptable compromise,” said Ed Birk, the attorney for News4Jax. “I still don’t understand why recording while in the room when the meeting is taking place in that room, why that recording is prohibited. There are less restrictive means to protect voter secrecy than a blanket ban of recording in the room.”

Canvassing board member and Jacksonville City Councilman Michael Boylan, who proposed the compromise, defended the decision.

“It can be a distraction. There is no doubt about it. Trust me,” Boylan said. “Being on both sides of the camera (he used to run WJCT), I understand how this works. But for me to be able to do my job, I want to feel confident that my decision I am making at that moment in time is the right decision. I don’t want to be balanced by how do I look in making that decision -- either my indecisiveness or my decisiveness in that decision. This is going to be a tedious process and we have hundreds of thousands of ballots we’re going to be looking at.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 115,000 mail-in ballots have been received in Duval County and that number will continue growing until 7 p.m. next Tuesday.

About the Authors:

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