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How To Make Sure Your Mail-In Ballot Gets Counted

Voting signs
Voting signs

Counties in Florida saw a sharp increase in mail-in voting during the August primary, as people put a priority on voting safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But thousands of mail-in ballots went uncounted.

Some arrived too late. Some were excluded because the required signature didn't match the one on record. Some came in with no signature at all.

So if you're going to vote by mail, how can you make sure your ballot is counted?

Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays highlighted the problems, how to avoid them and how to check up on your ballot.

Problem No. 1 - Too late to be counted

For a local mail-in ballot to be counted, it must arrive at the supervisor of elections office before 7 p.m. on Election Day. It can come in by mail or get dropped off at an official drop box.

There's been a lot of reporting on a slowdown in U.S. Postal Service deliveries. So what can you do about this problem?

First, go online and request your ballot today. Then as soon as it arrives, fill it out and mail it back in -- or put it in the drop box at the elections office or an early voting location.

Don't delay. And don't mail a ballot in the last week before the election. The ballot has to get there by Election Day.

"In Florida," Hays says, "the easiest way to say it is: The postmark means nothing."

So let's say you've mailed a ballot and you want to make sure it's been counted. You can check by visiting your supervisor of elections website. They'll have a "Track My Ballot" or "Voter Information Lookup" page.

You enter your name and date of birth, and you can see the status of your ballot. There are four steps:

  • Requested, which means you asked for a mail-in ballot.
  • Sent, which means they've sent you one.
  • Received, which means it has been successfully returned by mail or drop-off.
  • Counted, which means your vote has been counted.

If "Received" is still gray, then the ballot has not been received. If it is red, then there's a problem with it. And you'll see instructions on how to "cure" the problem. You have until 5 p.m. two days after Election Day to prove that it is your ballot.

If on Election Day, your ballot still has not been received. You can go to your precinct and tell the poll worker you tried to vote by mail but it hasn't gotten there. Hays says the worker will check the "Electronic Poll Book" to make sure your mail-in ballot hasn't been counted and then will let you vote. If the mail-in ballot arrives before 7 p.m. after all, that ballot will not go through.

Problem No. 2 - Your signature

When voting by mail, you sign and date the outside of the ballot envelope. The elections office must verify your signature before opening it.

"You wouldn't believe the number of people who fail to sign the envelope," Hays said.

And sometimes the signature doesn't match the one on record. It could be that you registered to vote at 18 and now you're 35 and your signature has grown up with you.

Hays recommends that voters whose signatures may have changed should go ahead and update their voter registration.

The supervisor of elections office will notify you about the problem. This can take time -- another reason to vote early.

Anyway, when you check your ballot’s status, you'll see if there is an issue.

Pasco County has a similar service called "Ballot Scouter." You can track a ballot like an Amazon package, by opting in to the service where when they get your ballot in the mail, and you'll get a text or an email or when they get your ballot.

If there's a problem, they'll notify you. So there's lots of ways to make sure that your vote counts this November.

Problem No. 3 - The marital mixup

This happens when family members sit down together to fill out their vote-by-mail ballots and then sign the wrong envelopes.

Your ballot's envelope has a barcode tying it to you. So if your spouse or other family member signs it, the signature isn't going to match the one on record.

"I have seen far too many situations where each spouse will sign the incorrect envelope," Hays says.

In Florida, supervisors of elections don't wait until the last minute to count mail-in ballots. So an increase in voting by mail should not cause a delay in results.

One of the most frequent questions is, "You only count the absentee ballots in close elections?" Hays said.

"I mean, I can't make this stuff up -- my imagination is not that wild. The answer is an absolute no. That is not true."

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.