© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Baxley Pushes Effort To Change How Voters Request Mail In Ballots

Pictured here is an official envelope for a vote-by-mail ballot. A pen is on the ballot.
Christopher Habermann/The Toidi
Adobe Stock
Pictured here is an official envelope for a vote-by-mail ballot. A pen is on the ballot.

Florida’s 2020 election had an unusually high turnout, and one reason was a record high number of ballots cast by mail, especially by Democrats. By law, voters must request a mail ballot, and one request is valid through two election cycles, one for president and one for governor.

But Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, wants to change the law to require every voter to ask for a mail ballot in every calendar year there’s an election. That would include local city elections and presidential primaries usually held in March. Baxley worries about voters getting the wrong ballots.

"My concern is, as mobile of a society as we are, this could be out of alignment. I know people who have moved three or four times in two years. If they're not updating, they're not getting the right ballot," Baxley said. "This is just opening it up for the opportunity for something to go wrong. I think this is a place to avoid some risk."

People do move around a lot, but election supervisors say safeguards exist. If mail ballots can't be delivered, the post office sends them back, except when a voter moves and does not give the Postal Service a forwarding address. The new resident could keep that ballot as junk mail, but if the voter tried to cast it, officials would closely review the voter's signature to be sure it matches what's on file.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley says the existing law works well and should not be changed.

“I think the public is used to being able to request for two election cycles when they make the request,” Earley said. “I think there is a big logistical problem in presidential election years, because the language of the bill says the request has to be in the calendar year that the elections occur. January 1 of 2024 is when that calendar year starts, of course, and the election for the presidential primary is typically held in mid-March or earlier. That is not much time to process vote-by-mail ballot requests.’’

Earley’s colleague, Craig Latimer, the supervisor of elections in Hillsborough County, also is a vocal critic of the bill. Latimer says it will cost a massive amount of money to educate voters of the need to submit more frequent mail ballot requests. He called the legislation expensive and unnecessary.

Earley says it is not good for the state to constantly change the rules of voting in Florida.

“If nothing else, it breaks a good-faith contract that we’ve kind of made with the voters. They’ve requested it, we’ve got it on file. They’re expecting this ballot, and suddenly we’re changing the rules on them,” Earley said.

The bill will be debated for the first time on Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee at the Capitol, where Republicans hold a 5-4 advantage.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.