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Lawmaker Looks To Ensure Provisional Ballots Are Counted

A sign saying Vote Here
Erik Hersman / Flickr

Lawmakers are moving forward with a measure aimed at helping ensure more people’s votes are counted.

During a presidential election in Florida, thousands of provisional ballots are left uncounted. In some cases, that’s because voters forgot to sign them. And Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) has a bill to do something about that.

It’s a very simple bill it just allows a voter who casts a ballot, but fails to sign his or her name to be able to cure that deficiency just like a voter can cure that deficiency on a vote by mail ballot,” Gibson says.

A vote by mail ballot, or absentee ballot allows someone to request that a ballot be mailed to their home then they mail it back or drop it off at the supervisor of elections office. And sometimes voters make mistakes when filling out those ballots –like forgetting to sign them. But Gibson says there’s a plan in place to address that. And she wants that same plan to apply to provisional ballots—or a ballot that’s voted in person at a polling location, often when there are questions about a voter’s eligibility.

“The process for curing the provisional ballot already exists. There’s nothing new that has to be created. It’s parallel to the absentee ballot curing so there’s nothing extra that has to be done,” Gibson says.

But Ron Labasky who represents the Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections, says the change isn’t needed. He says mistakes on provisional ballots are rare.

“I reviewed the 2014 federal election administration report that’s filed with the Department of State with the federal government that follows every election that we have. And in 2014 we had 5,392 provisional ballots that appear to be rejected based upon that report. 31 were rejected based upon the failure to have no signature,” Labasky says.

And Labasky says unlike mail-in ballots, provisional ballots are filled out in person and under a poll worker’s supervision.

“So based up on the personal involvement of those individuals, I’d have to suggest to you that the reason those 31 ballots were not counted is because the person who had started and initiated the affidavit with the chief deputy at the polling place assisting them chose not to execute the affidavit and thus it was not signed,” Labasky says.

Labasky says the affidavit requires a person to affirm they are a registered, qualified voter, and filling it out fraudulently is a felony. And so he says it makes sense that a person who is not legally registered to vote wouldn’t finish the affidavit. But Gibson says that’s an unfair characterization and says it makes sense that legitimate ballots could be missing signatures and could slip through the cracks. And she says in some cases just one or two ballots can make a difference. She gives the example of a special election in Duval County.

“There was a two-vote decision that decided that race. So any one missing ballot could change the outcome of an issue or who is elected to office," Labasky says.

The measure has passed its first two committees in the Senate. It’s awaiting its first hearing in the House.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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