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Officials Hope Election Changes Tighten Procedures

Employees at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office count ballots from the Mid-term election, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Lauderhill, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo

Most of the discussion about a recently passed elections bill has focused on 2018’s Amendment 4. It restored the right for certain felons to vote. But the bill does many more things aimed at fixing issues within Florida’s elections system.

During the 2018 election claims of voter fraud, missed deadlines and lawsuits caused some may call a fiasco. That led to legislators making changes to avoid the same problems in the future. Most of the ideas came directly from the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections. Paul Lux is the President of the group.

“I can tell you that we are responding to the need to improve things for the voters themselves. Things that they might not be aware of that need to be improved," said Lux.

Former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho thinks the change didn’t do enough.

“It’s primarily window dressing. The biggest problem was the meltdown of Governor Scott for example, who went crazy on election night over the Broward County votes, that were mail-in votes that they had not had the time to clock-in and count," said Sancho.

But Lux says changes they made this year fixes those issues issue.

“The reason we moved the mailing date for the absentee ballots for example is because the U.S. Postal service is now telling us with the closures of many of their regional processing facilities most first class mail requires a minimum for a guaranteed delivery of 5 days," said Lux.

Another change extends the last day to request vote-by-mail ballots from 5 to 10 days before an election. Sancho says he’s not convinced it will help.

“That’s designed in theory to prevent all of these tens of thousands of ballots arriving on the last day. Humans, I want to tell the legislature, are procrastinators. The 10,000 ballots didn’t arrive on election day because they were requested 5 days before. They arrived on election day because people waited until the last second to mail those things in," said Sancho.

Sancho says the best thing the bill does is extend the time period to count votes.

"It did extend the time period that election officials had to tabulate these mail-ballots. That will provide more time for the supervisor of elections to tabulate the large number of mail-in ballots which they get slammed in at the last second, said Sancho.

Counties can now begin to count vote-by-mail ballots 22 days before an election, it was 15. Lux, who is also Okaloosa County’s Supervisor of Elections says the extension was needed.

"You have those large counties like Palm Beach, and Broward and Miami-Dade who get hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots, and they had the same 15 days to open them as the rest of us did. So, you know, some of the smaller counties Levy, Lafayette, Madison, they certainly didn’t need 15 days to open all of their vote-by-mail ballots. But Miami was really pushing the envelope to get it all done in those 15 days." 

But even with the changes, Sancho says vote-by-mail ballots  aren’t a good way to vote. He says statistics show 3% of all vote-by-mail ballots go uncounted. Often disenfranchising minorities and young voters more.

“Because they’re the most likely to create errors in this mail-in ballot. And if they create an error that could in fact disenfranchise them from having that vote counted," said Sancho.

Governor Ron DeSantis has yet to sign the bill. As long as he doesn’t veto it, it’ll take effect July 1st.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.