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Election 2020: A Q&A With Leon Supervisor Of Elections Mark Earley

black and white photo of people standing in line in a gymnasium to vote
Bryan Jones via flickr
Leon County Supervisor Mark Earley's LinkedIn profile picture.

As Supervisor of Elections, Mark Earley oversees and administers the elections for Leon county. He's in charge of ensuring voters are properly registered, maintaining voter rolls, designing the ballots, and maintaining the county's voter databases. He and his team also serve as the reporting entity for local candidate campaign finance reports and registrations. Earley was elected Supervisor of Elections in 2016 following the retirement of Ion Sancho, a nationally regarded expert in election administration.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: What are the qualifications for voting in Florida?

The qualifications for voting in Florida, you have to be a US citizen, a resident of Florida, 18 years of age, not have been adjudicated mentally incompetent, and not be a convicted felon with your rights not restored [including the repayment of fines, fees and restitution incurred as part of the sentence].

Q: When is the last day to register to vote?

For the November 3rd election, the last day for registration is October 5th.

Q: How does someone update their registration to vote in their current location?

If you've moved to Leon County, from another county, you can call my office and we can do an address change over the phone, you can go to my website, leonvotes.gov; there's a place to update your registration. If you want to do a party change or anything like that, it can also be done online.

Q: When does early voting start and end?

Early voting [runs] October 19th through November 1st. We will also have the ability to do vote by mail drop off in our drop boxes here at my office on November 2nd and November 3rd.

Q: How can someone check to see if they already registered?

You can go to my website, leonvotes.gov., and there's a button called your voter info, just click on that. It'll ask you for a little bit of information so that we can look you up. And it'll tell you whether you're registered to vote in Leon County, whether you've requested a vote by mail ballot. You can also check the status of that vote by mail ballot; if it was sent to you, if you voted it and send it back to us through the mail. It will show that we received it, if there were any problems or if we've counted it.

Q: Are there qualifications for early voting?

The only qualification for early voting or vote by mail or voting in general is that you have to be a resident of ... the county in which you're voting in.

Q: Are there any special actions done for disabled voters?

Sure, we have accessible voting machines that are polling sites that can magnify the ballot, it can speak the ballot to you. We've got a keypad that's in Braille and has various symbols that help you navigate through the ballot. If you want to have someone [with you] to assist, you can do that, as well as when you're voting at home. You can do it that way too.

Q: Can you explain what a provisional ballot is and how they differ from regular ballots?

A provisional ballot is kind of like a failsafe. If you show up at the polls, and there seems to be some kind of a problem with your voting record—maybe we indicate you've already voted, but you're certain you have not—we'll let you go ahead and vote a ballot. But instead of putting it in a voting machine, we take it in a yellow envelope—it's a provisional ballot envelope—you'll fill out a form, we'll research that and if you have not voted yet, and if you're in the right location, all of that, we will count that ballot. So, it's kind of like a catch-all [to resolve any issues].

Q: Can you explain what curing a ballot does and how that is incorporated in the election?

Curing a ballot is if you're voting by mail, and … there's a problem with your signature, then the cure process enables us to contact you with a form that you can sign and also include ... a copy of your ID. You can either mail that to us, you can bring it into our office, you can text it back through a text… or you can email it back or fax it back. Then we can use that to make sure that your ballot is cast. You have until two days after the election to give that to us. That has to be in our office by 5 p.m. on Thursday [Nov. 5].

Q: What is the deadline date for a person that wants to mail their ballot in for it to count?

If you've got to vote by mail…make sure you send it to us at least a week out from the election. The earlier the better. Procrastination is the enemy of getting your vote counted this election. So, make sure that you if you're going to use vote by mail, request it now. I'm also sending 140,000 vote by mail [ballot] request [forms] to all of our voters who have not requested [a vote by mail ballot] already. You fill that [form] out, send it back to us and we'll get that application. And we will send you a ballot, but make sure you get it back to us soon. If you don't want to trust the mail, which is fine, you can bring it [the ballot] in to our office or you can bring it to one of our drop boxes during early voting and that runs October 19 through November 1.

"Election Night results are not really the final results, not even close."
Mark Earley, Leon County Supervisor of Elections

Q: Are there any ballots that will not count?

The ones we don’t count are those that come in late. That makes up the vast majority. Most elections that’s about 100-200 [ballots]. But we’re still getting ballots in from the 2018 election, maybe every couple of months. For the most part, it’s ballots we receive late, in the last couple days after the election. There are a few dozen we won’t count out of the many tens of thousands that have some kind of signature problem. Those could be fraudulent ballots possibly, though it’s hard to tell if its intentional fraud. Or, just no signature, or someone’s signature has changed dramatically and they didn’t follow through on the cure process.

Q: What happens once all ballots are all cast?

As people vote, we're tabulating the results, getting those in. We present those reports results to the public and upload them to the state and people can kind of get started seeing an understanding of what the results are going to look like election night. But really, I would like to warn everybody: Election Night results are not really the final results, not even close. We don't even turn in our first and unofficial results until Friday or Saturday, depending on the election, after election day. There's the cure process, there's provisional ballots that we're reviewing, there's military overseas ballots we're still getting in. So there will be some additional numbers added up throughout that week of Election Day. And frankly, as close as elections are in Florida, those numbers all have a big impact.

Q: How do people who serve in the military vote if they are currently stationed outside of the state or outside of the country?

If you are military or a family member of a military person that's overseas, we actually have to get the ballots. If you've got a request in for a vote by mail ballot, we get those out at least 45 days in advance. A lot of votes are also sent by email. We email them [a] picture of the ballot, they print it out, they mark it by hand, and then they'll put it in an envelope and send it back to us or they can fax it back. We don't take results or voted ballots over email or online. We don't do any of that. But as long as they vote by Election Day, and it's postmarked from wherever they're sending it from by election day and it gets here [within 10 days after the election], it’s counted.

Q: Is there a way to check
, it’s counted.

Q: Is there a way to check to make sure a mail-in ballot has been received and counted?

You can track your ballots on our website. It’s LeonVotes.gov/yourvoterinfo. You can see when we received the request, when we mailed it out--if that mail out date is five days ago or more, and you have not yet received your ballot from us
there’s probably a problem with it getting to you and you should call and let us know and request another ballot.

If someone gets a replacement ballot, they will see “Ballot 2” [on the website] and it will list the current election.

Sha’Tara Simmons is a journalism student at Florida A&M University.